The elephant in the room
  |  First Published: June 2017

If you are looking for cod in our local waters, then Swan Hill has been the place to fish this past month.

Good numbers of Murray cod ranging from small up to a metre have been on the chew from the Swan Hill Road Bridge upstream to Pental Island. Anglers trolling lures have had the most success with StumpJumpers, Codgers and Old Mates working well. The best lure colours have been a wish wash of darks and brights. As is usually the case, the colour closest to the hungry fish is the one that gets eaten.

Bait fishers are also catching a few good cod with grubs and scrubworms working best, followed by cheese. Both Murray cod and golden perch have been captured in good numbers all the way from Swan Hill to just below Boundary Bend where the cod numbers begin to drop away the further you head downstream.

From Robinvale downstream to Renmark in South Australia, the absence of Murray cod in our local waters has now become the elephant in the room for local fishers and businesses alike. Lengthy discussions with fish ecologists and departments of environmental management reveal what it is most of us already know. The Murray cod population through this lengthy stretch of river has taken a serious hit and for the next few seasons, cod fishing in our local waters will be quite bleak.

In 2010, the Darling River high in flood provided numerous giant Murray cod a sanctuary from the toxic black water. It also mixed the main body of the Murray downstream of Wentworth, providing sustainable oxygen levels that insured most of the Murray cod would survive. These fish then returned back upstream in the following few years, finding their way back as far as Euston below the lock.

This time round the Darling was but a trickle as the Blackwater passed through. With no refuge, the Murray cod population bore the full brunt of the black flows. Other than the bottom few locks in South Australia, the cod population has been decimated. There is no magic fix to this problem and for those that believe these giant fish will return need ask themselves exactly where are they are going to return from.

The length and destructive power of the black water the recent flood contained has never been recorded throughout the history of the Murray Darling basin. It seems without corroboration from all parties, black water events of this magnitude will be the new normal, and this has been stated several times now by departmental people, including an on stage presentation at the Murray Codfrence held in Shepparton on 11 December 2016, where almost 300 guests were in attendance.

Stop and think on this for just a few moments and the real truth of our once great fishery looks set on a path of no return. Instead of future floods promoting an explosion of life and the optimal breeding conditions for our Murray cod, they will continue to have the opposite effect. Without breeding, there will be no small cod and yet we now know from the past two black water events that virtually the only cod that survived the main flows of black water were small.

If you follow this line of thought with each flood, Murray cod numbers will become less until they are all but gone. At this exact moment, this is where we stand and without transparency and backing from all parties involved, the future of our cod fishery looks very bleak indeed.

On a brighter note, good numbers of golden perch have been caught all the way down through Robinvale past Hattah to Mildura and through to the South Australian border.

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