A meeting of anglers, fisheries managers and researchers in 2010 will lead to greater angler involvement and fishing focus in Murray cod management and research.
Representatives from Victoria, NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority met for two days at Mulwala to review the history of environmental change, fishing, management and research relating to cod throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.
Their purpose was to strengthen anglers’ involvement in management and research and increase collaboration among researchers and managers in the fields of fisheries and biodiversity conservation. In doing so, those at the meeting developed a course of action to bring this about.
They also identified a shared view of the key information gaps and cod research priorities.
As well as improving fisheries management arrangements and research collaboration across the Basin, the action plan’s major aim is the formation of a Murray cod fishery management group.
Members are to include an angler, a manager and a researcher from each of the four states, plus a representative from the MDBA and the Commonwealth Government.
As well as directly involving anglers, unlike existing regional bodies, this management group will report to governments through the directors of fisheries through the Australian Fisheries Management Forum.
The important thing for anglers is that this will create a recreational fishing focus for Murray cod management, research and stock recovery across the Basin.
Until now, anglers’ direct involvement in Murray cod research and management across the Basin has been disjointed. Each state has its own approach, with some dealing with cod fishery management separately from cod species and ecosystem protection.
For example, Victoria’s DPI manages cod fishing, stocking and related research under the Fisheries Act while the DSE manages cod from a species protection and biodiversity standpoint under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.
Victorian angler engagement differs in the DPI and DSE processes.
At the Basin level there has been angler representation on the MDBA’s Native Fish Strategy Community Stakeholder Task Force. However, as well as being inactive in recent years this arrangement is focused on biodiversity conservation, not fishing, and gives anglers little if any direct input to the MDBA’s program.
Despite the Basin-wide focus on cod over several decades there is still a great deal of misunderstanding, as well as crucial gaps in understanding of the status of cod populations.
While the international conservation agency, the IUCN, lists Murray cod as ‘critically endangered’, the species is listed as ‘vulnerable’ (not presently endangered) under Victoria’s FFG Act.
It is not listed under such threatened categories in Queensland, NSW, South Australia or the ACT but it is listed as ‘threatened’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Part of this apparent confusion stems from the fact that the various natural and human factors affecting cod populations have operated in different ways and by differing degrees across the Basin. Part of the confusion arises from mistaken or outdated information on cod and the river ecosystem.
One of the Mulwala workshop’s main conclusions is that far more emphasis must be placed on extension of research results and communication of factual information to the wider community, particularly to anglers. Involving anglers as core members of a new fisheries-focused ‘Murray cod fisheries management group’ is seen as a vital step in this direction.
Another area in need of improvement is the coordination of cod research and management programs, with greater emphasis on collaboration and data sharing rather than competition and ‘hoarding’.
Benefits should include more competitive project funding proposals and improved return on investments in research. This realisation prompted Victorian DPI inland fisheries managers and their NSW counterparts to convene the workshop, with funding support from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
The response from all invited participants was strong, indicating a keen shared interest in working more collaboratively. Improved research collaboration and extension should strengthen anglers’ position when they engaged in contentious issues such as the water debate and any proposals of fishing area closures.
On the day before the workshop, researchers met to review the state of knowledge and current projects on Murray cod. Their collective assessment of the main priorities for future research coincided with those identified at the workshop:
• Ongoing estimation of recreational catches (kept and released), fishing effort, fishing mortality and size composition in key sections of the fishery; estimation of the catch taken by illegal fishing;
• Quantify the environmental variables that influence cod through their life history, particularly river flow, habitat and water quality;
• Understand the role of cod in the ecosystem;
• Determine the contribution of stocking programs to cod populations and to fishing.
Other issues included the future under climate change, the effectiveness of current catch limits, the contribution of very large cod to recruitment and the scope for managing some parts of the fishery to meet different angler objectives.
Anglers stressed the importance of considering illegal fishing separately from recreational fishing in catch estimates, cod population modelling and targeted management responses.
Anglers are already actively involved in Murray cod research from club or community-based stocking and habitat improvement programs, angler diaries, competition reporting, tag recaptures and measurement of the survival of cod released after hooking.
While the workshop was being held, Victorian DPI researchers were leading a team of experienced cod anglers in Lake Mulwala as part of a fishing trial to assess whether the ‘research angler diary’ methods used for monitoring catches and stocks in some marine fisheries might work in the cod fishery.
If successful, this could lead to the establishment of angler-led monitoring contribution to cod research.
In any event, anglers have the potential to increase the extent of their own research, development and extension projects that mesh in with a coordinated Basin-wide program.Reads: 1819