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Murray Cod (2020)

Maccullochella peelii

  • Qifeng Ye (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Gavin Butler (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • John Koehn (Applied Aquatic Ecology, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Mark Lintermans (Centre for Applied Water Science, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra)
  • Steven Brooks (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Matthew Beizel (Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, Australian Capital Territory)
  • George Giatas (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Nathan Miles (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Jason Thiem (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Brenton Zampatti (CSIRO Land and Water)

You are currently viewing a report filtered by jurisdiction. View the full report.

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Summary

Murray Cod is the largest solely freshwater fish in Australia. It occurs throughout most of the Murray–Darling system. Stock status is depleted in the ACT and SA, undefined in NSW and QLD and recovering VIC.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Queensland Queensland Undefined Fishery-independent surveys, recreational fishing surveys
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Stock Structure

Murray Cod is the largest solely freshwater fish in Australia. It occurs throughout most of the Murray–Darling system, except for the upper reaches of some tributaries in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and southern New South Wales. Throughout most of its distribution in the Murray–Darling Basin there is one large genetically panmictic biological stock [Rourke et al. 2011]. However, genetically distinct populations have been identified in the more isolated Lachlan, Macquarie and Gwydir catchments [Rourke et al. 2011]. This separation appears to be the result of restricted gene flow due to the isolated nature of these catchments [Rourke et al. 2011]. Although genetic studies suggest the existence of one biological stock, there are differences in available information, environmental conditions and management arrangements and objectives across the species’ distribution in various jurisdictions. Further, genetic homogeneity could be a result of low levels of genetic interchange between functionally discrete stocks, and thus it may not be the best approach for stock discrimination to inform management. Therefore, a jurisdictional approach is adopted, which provides the clearest possible view of biological status given current knowledge for Murray Cod.

Murray Cod is the most economically and culturally important freshwater fish species in the Murray–Darling Basin. It supports substantial recreational fisheries and is an important fish to indigenous Australians [Koehn 2005, Lintermans and Phillips 2005]. Since European settlement, populations have declined as a result of a number of threats, including changes to the natural flow regime, habitat loss, barriers to movement, cold-water releases from dams, diseases, and over-harvesting [Rowlands 1989, Koehn 2005, Lintermans and Phillips 2005, National Murray Cod Recovery Team 2010a, 2010b]. Commercial fishing for this species is currently prohibited in the Murray–Darling Basin but recreational fishing is popular and widespread. Take by recreational fishers may influence population structure [Nicol et al. 2004, West et al. 2016, Murphy et al. 2020]. Murray Cod is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth) but a recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List assessment found the species to be no longer threatened and listed it as of least concern [Gilligan et al. 2019]. A national recovery plan has been developed for this species (National Murray Cod Recovery Team 2010a) although this Plan is now 10 years old and needs updating. A cross-jurisdictional Murray Cod Fishery Management Group was established in 2010 to improve collaboration on, and alignment of, recreational fisheries management and research for the species across the Basin [National Murray Cod Recovery Team 2010a, 2010b]. Management strategies, including the closure of commercial fisheries, harvest restrictions, restocking, and seasonal closures to protect spawning populations, have resulted in evidence of recovery in some areas [Harris and Gehrke 1997, Lintermans et al. 2005, Davies et al. 2008, 2012, Barwick et al. 2014]. However, there are still concerns for Murray Cod stocks throughout portions of their range, particularly due to recent impacts by drought, fires and fish kills, and thus basin-wide recovery may take decades.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

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Stock Status

Queensland

Anecdotal evidence provided by recreational anglers indicates substantial declines in Murray Cod populations in Queensland. It is generally accepted that native fish populations in the Murray–Darling Basin’s rivers have declined to an estimated 10 per cent of the levels before European settlement [Murray–Darling Basin Commission 2004]. The decline is thought to have resulted from a combination of flow regulation, habitat degradation, reduced water quality, barriers to movement, introduced species and overexploitation from illegal fishing [Murray–Darling Basin Commission 2004].

Approximately 100 000 fingerlings have been stocked each year throughout the species’ range in Queensland since the mid-1980s. A large proportion of these fingerlings are stocked into impounded waters, where natural recruitment levels are low. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority Sustainable Rivers Audit, fishery-independent monitoring and anecdotal evidence from recreational fishers suggest an increase in numbers in the Border Rivers region, which may be attributed to extensive stocking in this catchment [Butler et al. unpublished data]. The audit and other fishery-independent monitoring have been undertaken in several other rivers and catchments in Queensland. However, the lack of consistency in sampling methodologies and the low numbers of Murray Cod recorded during the monitoring makes accurate biomass estimates difficult.

The Queensland area of the Murray–Darling Basin has never supported a commercial fishery, although there is a recreational fishery throughout the northern Murray‒Darling catchment. The species is mostly targeted within the Dumaresq, Macintyre, Moonie, Condamine, Balonne and Warrego Rivers and their tributaries; fish are also occasionally reported from the Paroo River [Taylor et al. 2012]. A survey of recreational participation and catch was conducted in 2014 [Webley et al. 2015], but harvest estimates for Murray Cod were considered to be unreliable. A recent study in the Border Rivers region suggests that harvest of this species remains high, with most fish being removed from the population within two years of reaching legal size [Butler et al. unpublished data]. While this suggests that fishing pressure is high, fishing mortality cannot be accurately estimated based on existing data. Therefore, there is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Murray Cod in Queensland is classified as an undefined stock.

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Biology

Murray Cod biology Informationon Murray Cod longevity and size and age at maturity is provided in the Biology Table below [Whitley 1955, Pollard 1966, Lake 1967, Rowland 1985, Anderson et al. 1992, Gooley et al. 1995, Rowland 1998a, King et al. 2009, Butler et al. unpublished data]. 

Additional summary points on Murray Cod biology and ecology are: 

• Murray Cod are a demersal species [Koehn 2009a] that prefer the main channel of rivers, flowing anabranches and creeks [Humphries et al. 1999, King 2004, Koehn 2009b, Leigh and Zampatti 2013], within which both juveniles and adults have an affinity for hydraulically diverse lotic (i.e. flowing) habitats with abundant physical habitat cover, particularly large woody debris [Boys and Thoms 2006; Jones and Stuart 2007; Koehn 2009b; Koehn and Nicol 2013]. Habitat alteration, such as removal of snags from the main channel and anabranches, and loss of fast-flowing water habitats due to river regulation, water extraction or drought will decrease habitat availability and likely have negative impacts on Murray Cod populations.

• Murray Cod spawn in spring at water temperatures > 15°C, with adhesive eggs laid in a nest that is guarded until the larvae leave and drift in the water column [Rowland 1998b, Humphries 2005, Koehn and Harrington 2005, 2006, Koehn et al. 2020].  

• Enhanced recruitment of Murray Cod in lowland areas has been linked to increased river flow or flooding [King et al. 2009, Ye and Zampatti 2007]. The exact mechanism driving recruitment is unknown, but it is likely to be linked to flowing water environments [Zampatti et al. 2014] and potentially an increase in food resources for larvae and juveniles following high river flows and floodplain inundation [King et al. 2009].

• In lowland rivers, adult Murray Cod can undertake small- to large-scale movements (up to 120 km) from their home sites within the main river channel and anabranches, and between these habitats [Koehn et al. 2009, Leigh and Zampatti 2013, Koehn and Nicol 2016]. Lateral and longitudinal disconnection (for example, by structures or reduced flow) will alter the movement patterns of the species [Carpenter-Bundoo et al. 2020]. In upland rivers, movements are likely to be limited by natural barriers such as gorges and waterfalls.

• Cold-water pollution, due to low-level releases from dams, can limit spawning and egg and larval survival [Todd et al. 2005, Sherman et al. 2007], affect juvenile growth rates [Whiterod et al. 2018], adult movement behaviour and survival of juvenile fish [Tonkin et al. 2020], and has been deemed responsible for the loss of Murray Cod populations downstream of a number of major impoundments [Lugg and Copeland 2014].

• Anoxic blackwater events in lowland environments that may occur as a result of flooding after prolonged periods of low flow, and other poor water quality events such as the 2019 fish kills in the lower Darling River, can result in considerable mortality of Murray Cod [Koehn 2005, King et al. 2012, Leigh and Zampatti 2013, Thiem et al. 2017, Vertessy et al. 2019].

Biology
Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Murray Cod

At least 48 years, ~1800 mm TL , 83 kg

First maturity at ~4–5 years, ~400–600 mm TL  for both sexes. Variable across geographic regions.

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Distributions

Distribution of Murray Cod based on reported catch
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Tables

Fishing methods
Queensland
Commercial
Unspecified
Recreational
Hook and Line
Indigenous
Various
Management methods
Method Queensland
Charter
Bag limits
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Recreational
Bag and possession limits
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Catch
Queensland
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

Commercial (management methods) Murray Cod captured by the Lakes and Coorong Fishery are currently protected under South Australian fishing regulations.

Indigenous (management methods) Indigenous fishers who can satisfy the requirements of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) in relation to their connection to the specific area or waters may take sufficient Murray Cod to satisfy their customary, non-commercial domestic needs in South Australia and Queensland. Indigenous fishers who do not satisfy these requirements are subject to the standard recreational bag limits, size limits and closures.

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

Victoria – Indigenous fishing

 A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s 

Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 

are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement.Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Murray Cod- note confidential catch not shown
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References

  1. Anderson, JR, Morison, AK and Ray, DJ 1992, Age and growth of Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii (Perciformes: Percichthyidae), in the lower Murray–Darling Basin, from thin-sectioned otoliths, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 43: 983–1013.
  2. Australian Capital Territory Government 2015, Fish stocking plan for the Australian Capital Territory 2015–2020, Environment and Planning Directorate, Canberra.
  3. Barwick, MJ, Koehn, JD, Crook, DA, Todd, CR, Westaway, C and Trueman, W 2014, The future for managing recreational fisheries in the Murray–Darling Basin, Ecological Management and Restoration, 15: 75–81.
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  5. Cadwallader, PL 1977, JO Langtry’s 1949–50 Murray River investigations, Fisheries and Wildlife Paper, Victoria, 13: 1–70.
  6. Cadwallader, PL and Gooley, GJ, 1984, Past and present distributions and translocations of Murray Cod Maccullochella peelii and trout cod M. macquariensis (Pisces: Percichthyidae) in Victoria, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 96: 33–43.
  7. Carpenter-Bundhoo, L, Butler, GL, Espinoza, T, Bond, NR, Bunn, SE, and Kennard, MJ, 2020, Reservoir to river: quantifying fine scale fish movements after translocation, Ecology of Freshwater Fish, 29: 89102.
  8. Conron, SD, Bell, JD, Ingram, BA and Gorfine, HK 2020, Review of key Victorian fish stocks — 2019, Victorian Fisheries Authority Science Report Series No. 15, First Edition, November 2020. VFA: Queenscliff. 176pp.
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  76. Ye, Q, Giatas, G, Bice, C, Brookes, J, Furst, D, Gibbs, M, Nicol, J, Oliver, R, Shiel, R, Zampatti, B, Bucater, L, Deane, D, Hipsey, M, Huang, P, Lorenz, Z and Zhai, S 2021, Commonwealth Environmental Water Office Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Project: Lower Murray 2019-20 Technical Report, A report prepared for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office by the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Aquatic Sciences.
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Downloadable reports

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