Murray cod closed season: let them breed in peace

A wild Murray cod.
A wild Murray cod.

Its the murray cod closed season at the moment. It also happens to be prime golden perch season. These two can often conflict given that unlike the trout season where rivers are totally closed to fishing, cod rivers are still open to other forms of fishing. While most people try to do the right thing, various aspects of murray cod biology, including paternal guarding of nests, mean that they can be all too easy to catch at this time of year, even on small lures intended for Golden perch. This means that some level of incidental bycatch is probably inevitable in places that hold populations of both Golden perch and Murray cod during the closed season, even if you are doing everything in your power to avoid catching a cod.

While some level of incidental capture is inevitable if you are going to chase Goldens, on social media, all to often you see reports of people catching many many closed season cod while chasing “Goldens”. One bycatch cod every once in a while is fine, but its not really OK to be catching 3, 6, 10 or 15 cod in a session and at least on social media, these high levels of bycatch appear to happen far too regularly.

This incidental bycatch is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has been shown that female Murray cod caught in Winter or during the closed season will often reabsorb their eggs, failing to spawn during the following breeding season. This means, that even if you are carefully catching and releasing cod during the closed season, this could potentially be having an effect on the number of cod that spawn successfully and in the long term cod populations as a whole. Especially if you are catching cricket scores of them. The breeding season is also a time that cod are under stress, spending large amounts of resources finding mates, spawning and protecting their eggs. This may make them more susceptible to stresses caused by catch and release, making them more likely to pick up infections and the like.

Its for these reasons that a closed season exists in the first place.

Given that rivers remain open to fishing for other species, its up to us to treat the closed season and our valuable Murray cod populations with respect. That means doing our absolute best to let Murray cod spawn in peace and produce the next generation on these amazing fish.

So if you are heading out to chase Goldens, here are a few simple rules to follow to limit your impact on Murray cod.

1: If you can, fish impoundments not rivers. Recent research has shown that cod populations in many of our impoundments are almost entirely made up of stocked fish. Given that in many dams and reservoirs, cod spawning doesn’t appear to be a major driver of those populations, incidental bycatch is far less of an issue. Catch your goldens and if you happen to catch a cod carefully release it without taking it out of the water and without feeling too guilty about it. Problem solved!

2: If you must fish rivers, use small lures, fish in areas you are less likely to encounter cod and if you do catch a cod move on or change tactics. If you catch another one, head home. As I said earlier, some level of bycatch is inevitable, but its up to us as anglers to limit that. Its simply not OK to catch 3, 6, 10 or 15 cod while targeting “Goldens” during the closed season. No matter how good your intentions are. It means that whatever you are doing to limit your bycatch isn’t working. Heck, this can even extend to soaking corn for carp (many years ago, Lee and Graz had to cut a carp session short after catching three little Murray cod in 10 minutes during the closed season). If the cod keep on hitting your offerings, do the right thing and leave that stretch of river. Leave the cod to spawn in peace.

Thats it. Enjoy spring and may the fishing gods be with you.

Cheers

Hamish

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

7 thoughts on “Murray cod closed season: let them breed in peace

  • November 10, 2015 at 4:18 pm
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    Great post. Totally agree with all you say.

    It’s a disgrace how much deliberate targetting of closed season cod there is.

    A really good recent scientific paper (Forbes et al., 2015 — Recreational Fishing Effort, Catch, and Harvest for
    Murray Cod and Golden Perch in the Murrumbidgee River, Australia) notes this and admits this is a problem.

    It’s also a total disgrace that damaging, non-threatened introduced trout enjoy a total fishing closure for their spawning season, while our precious native threatened Murray cod do not. It’s vile, in fact. As are the excuses trout apologists in NSW and Victorian Fisheries trot out to try and justify this terrible disparity.

    Rivers should be closed in cod spawning season, full stop.

    In the meantime, we can do the right thing.

    Myself, I avoid fishing rivers as a general rule doing cod spawning season.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2015 at 6:46 pm
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    Another spot on article chaps. Worth a mention also is the treatment of bycatch cod during closed season. Now is the time for minimal handling, squashing barbs, not taking the fish out of the water if possible and releasing as quickly as possible. Anything to reduce the stress of capture on an already likely stressed individual will help. Cant wait for Dec 1st just quietly… 🙂

    Reply
    • November 11, 2015 at 10:40 am
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      Totally. Its definitely the time for absolute best practice fish handling!

      Good luck on the opening. In my case, the fact the baby is due pretty much then is likely to mean that christening my cod season will have to wait till Jan or Feb…

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
  • November 11, 2015 at 9:17 am
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    While I also agree with the article we should also be careful in impoundments. Even though the cod don’t successfully breed in most impoundments very often it doesn’t mean that some of them don’t try. Video cod on nest sites in dams has been recorded. As such impoundment cod are probably subject to similar stresses, high levels of aggression, defending nest sites and capture mortality risks as river fish

    Reply
    • November 11, 2015 at 10:37 am
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      Hi Matt.

      They definitely spawn in impoundments and they can recruit successfully (a dam I’ve been told about was stocked with Cod once in the 70’s and is now chockers with fish of all ages) if conditions are right…

      For whatever reason (e.g. lack of suitable habitat for larvae in many impoundments?), the data tends to suggest that in many impoundments (it won’t be all, I’m sure that recruitment will be significant in some impoundments given that cod are capable of spawning in still waters), recruitment isn’t significant and populations are primarily made up of stocked fish. In those impoundments, while all that you say is true, bycatch is far less of a concern than in rivers and areas where populations are reliant on wild spawned fish… The same data that shows that some impoundment populations are primarily stocked fish shows the opposite for rivers, making it all the more important that we minimise our impact and leave those populations in peace during the spawning season…

      The truth is, if a waterway is primarily stocked individuals and is not a self sustaining, self recruiting population, its major value is as an angling resource, given that it is unlikely to be conservationally important. So I would massively prefer people “accidentally” catching fish in populations like that, than “accidentally” catching fish in rivers and areas where cod populations are reliant on wild recruitment. Even targeting cod within those populations during the closed season wouldn’t be a huge problem (and here I caution that much more work would need to be done on a wider range of impoundments, e.g. in Lake Mulwala recruitment is significant, so would NOT be a place where closed season targeting would be justified).

      The truth is, that is the levels of accidental bycatch seen on social media continue, a total ban on fishing in rivers during the closed season will be more than justified. If that were to happen, I would be fine with allowing targeting of cod during the closed season in impoundments where populations are primarily stocked.

      Longer term, figuring out why recruitment is poor in some impoundments and potentially changing management to allow for recruitment if possible may be the best way forward.

      Thanks heaps for the comment!!!

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
  • November 13, 2015 at 9:52 am
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    I agree Hamish for conservation leaving the rivers alone and risking potential bycatch or targeting cod during breeding (if that’s what people want to do) in the lakes is infinitely more preferable. And its interesting to see the options being explored. My point is more for the a management of a fishing resource. These stocking dependent fisheries resources are stocked with fish for all anglers using a variety of funds but usually taxpayer or anglers directly. If this resource is heavily impacted by mortality (take or C&R mortality) during a short single period where cod a more vulnerable to capture it reduces the resource for the rest of anglers for the year. Some impoundments are stocked at a level that could sustain it but I suspect that many may not and is there more stocking money available to replace the resource. Its a management question rather than a conservation one. Do we want 90% of the impact to happen in these stocked impoundments over 10 % of the time?(disclaimer: numbers are completely without scientific basis and are used here only to illustrate a point).
    Good luck with the new arrival.

    cheers
    Matt

    Reply
    • November 13, 2015 at 11:18 am
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      Yeah, totally agree Matt.

      I think these sort of things highlight the importance of monitoring. Determining the effect of anglers is only really possible if data is being gathered year to year, so that the effects of changes in policy on populations can actually be quantified (and say the impact of C&R on fish populations etc etc)….

      I think the stocking effectiveness research coming out highlights that perfectly. It looks like in many places river stockings are highly inefficient. Without that research there is every chance that many millions of dollars could have been wasted into the future… As it is, you would hope that in light of the new evidence, policy is adjusted and we can achieve better fish populations for less $$$ invested… In the long term research pays!

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply

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