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Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

1 July 2003

Murray Cod - Matter of National Environmental Significance


Australia's largest freshwater fish – the Murray Cod – was today added to the national list of threatened species by the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp.

"Listing the Murray Cod as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) highlights the need for the protection and careful management of this iconic and magnificent species which makes its home in one of our most important and most stressed rivers," Dr Kemp said.

"The Murray Cod is regarded as a wildlife icon of the Murray-Darling Basin and is one of the most popular target fish for freshwater anglers due to its size, good eating and ability to put up a strong hard fight whilst in deep water.

"They are known to live up to 100 years, growing to 1.8 metres and weighing up to 110 kilograms but Cod of this magnitude are extremely rare today"

Murray Cod occur naturally in Murray-Darling Basin waterways, in warm water habitats ranging from clear, rocky streams to slow flowing turbid rivers and billabongs. As the fish predator at the top of the food chain in the Murray-Darling River system, Murray Cod provide one of the best indicators of the health of the riverine system, including water quality and riverine habitat.

"The problem is that natural populations of the Murray Cod have declined dramatically since European settlement and the long-term survival of the species is of concern," Dr Kemp said.

"The Murray Cod has been assessed as having a 30% decline in numbers over the last 50 years. This decline is inferred from the dramatic decreases in commercial catches from the 1950s until present. Experts estimate native fish communities in the Murray-Darling are currently at 10% of pre-European levels.

Through the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust, the Howard Government has committed some $350 million to improving water quality in the Murray River.

"When we are able to take the Murray Cod off the threatened species list, we will know that our efforts to help bring the Murray back to life have been successful," Dr Kemp said.

"While local sites may still support good stocks of Murray Cod, the sites are fragmented and under threat from habitat degradation, cold water pollution from large deep dams, disruption to natural river flows, and introduced species"

Under the EPBC Act, listed species are considered to be a matter of National Environmental Significance. As a consequence, any activity likely to have a significant impact on the Murray Cod needs to be assessed and approved by Minister Kemp.

Dr Kemp said he believes lawful activities of recreational anglers would not have a significant impact on the Murray Cod. However, listing will ensure future large-scale infrastructure and river de-snagging programs are properly assessed in relation to their impacts on the Murray Cod.

"Recreational fishing of Murray Cod is already regulated in all range States and Territories. The catch of a recreational angler in accordance with current State and Territory laws is unlikely to have a significant impact on the species, but new actions such as large-scale de-snagging activities or the construction of large weirs or dams may need to be referred under the EPBC Act," Dr Kemp said.

"Murray Cod are highly dependent on in-stream woody structures for habitat and breeding sites. By taking this action, the Howard Government is ensuring the Murray Cod will remain a national icon for future generations"

Dr Kemp said the Draft Native Fish Strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin would assist with recovery of Murray Cod stocks as it aims to rehabilitate native fish populations back to 60% of their pre-European settlement levels over 50 years.

"I look forward to seeing the final strategy and its ongoing implementation by management agencies in partnership with the local community"

For more information on Australia's threatened species, contact Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on freecall 1800 803 772 or visit the website at www.ea.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/index.html.

Commonwealth of Australia