The Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii) is Australia’s largest freshwater fish and an icon species. It has significant economic, cultural, recreational and environmental values for all Australians. Populations of Murray cod across the Murray-Darling Basin have declined significantly from early-European settlement levels and this species is now listed as a nationally threatened species. Causes for decline include habitat loss and degradation, barriers to fish passage, flow regulation, cold-water releases and historical overfishing.

The Murray cod is a slow-growing, territorial, long-lived species at the top of the food-chain (a top predator). It is especially vulnerable to localised habitat alteration, pollution events and poor water quality, as witnessed by a succession of recent fish kills in some parts of the Basin in the 2000s. Stocking from hatcheries is currently an important management tool used to supplement Murray cod fisheries across the Basin each year, but it is not a long-term conservation solution. To address concerns about the future, conservation and management of Murray cod, a workshop was held in Canberra in June 2004.

Findings:

Twelve keynote papers were given at the workshop addressing various ecological, cultural or management issues around Murray cod. The workshop reviewed current knowledge of the history, status, population trends, threats and management responses relating to Murray cod and formulated a series of priority actions and recommendations. These were intended to provide an immediate response to the concerns of workshop participants about the future of this icon species.

An outcome of the workshop was the formation of a Murray Cod Reference Group, containing representation from scientists, fishery managers, recreational fishers, community members, and Aboriginal interests. This reference group was to be  a sounding board in the development of the national Murray Cod Recovery Plan.
A vision for the future of Murray cod across the basin was formulated: “Self-sustaining Murray cod populations managed for conservation, fishing and culture”
A range or research priorities were identified.

Implications for native fish:

Workshop participants made a number of recommendations and highlighted priority actions required to secure the future of Murray including a need to:

  • Promote Murray cod as an icon species and indicator of river health and sustainability;
  • Manage Murray cod in an integrated, multi-jurisdictional manner;
  • Develop a national recovery plan to guide recovery of the species;
  • Identify appropriate management units for Murray cod (jurisdictional, habitat zones, genetic Evolutionary Significant Management Units) across their range;
  • Form broad stakeholder reference group to be involved in drafting a recovery plan;
  • Harmonise management arrangements between jurisdiction;
  • Encourage public ownership of the issues affecting Murray cod along with a broader connectedness to rivers from among the community, rural, urban, city and country dwellers.

The outcomes of this workshop have been pivotal in developing a collaborative and strategic approach to recovery of this iconic species.  Click on the link below to access the Managing Murray Cod report.

Management of Murray Cod in the Murray-Darling Basin – Report

Related Projects:

Murray Cod spawning in Gunbower Creek

Comfortable cod for Cowra: When recycled roadwork debris creates new habitat for fish

 

John Koehn
Author

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