Two weeks ago, my old man caught a 106cm Murray Cod. In years past, a fish this size would not have been uncommon, and they were usually kept to eat. Now, it is rare to get a fish this size, or at all. And most people who fish for Murray Cod want to preserve the species as much as possible, so they are released back into the water after being caught (as was this big one).
The Murray Cod is the largest fish water fish in Australia, and can grow as big as 180cm, and weigh over 100kg. But these days, the most common weight caught is about 10kg, or less. Despite the Murray Cod being listed as a vulnerable species in terms of being endangered to extinction, their population is not monitored by the government. It’s mainly recreational anglers like us that keep track.
It’s the stories of the past that has current anglers green with envy; of a fish easily caught every trip, or massive sizes, and even multiple large fish. Based on the stories, we know that the population and size of the fish has dramatically declined in the last 70 years. Now, the numbers of mature fish over 50cm are significantly less.
When Murray Cod was commercially fished in the 1950s, the industry was producing about 10-15 tonnes each year from Victoria. In the early 1960s, the annual tonnage dropped to an average of 1.5 tonnes. This should have been fairly clear that they could not breed fast enough to sustain their numbers, but other environmental factors were also causing a decline, such as introduced species.
Despite all this, commercial fishing for Murray Cod was not banned until 2003, and Cod Season was introduced as well for recreational anglers. This is primarily so that fish weren’t kept during their spawning season, however the majority of recreational fisherman will release a Murray Cod if caught anyway. It practice has increased over time, since in the early 2000s, recreational fishing data showed that only about 30% of oversized fish caught were actually released.
I am certainly an advocate for sustainable fishing. I am all about having the fun of the catch, the excitement, the achievement of a big fish. I would not stoop to the level of setting unattended lines for days at a time, or targeting large fish whilst they are actively spawning. It needs to be understood that removing the large breeding fish is only going to be detrimentally to the species. We want to be able to still fish for Murray Cod in 40 years time.
So, please practice a catch-and-release policy when you’re fishing for Murray Cod. Take the photo, but return the fish for it to continue to grow and breed, and improve our fisheries.