Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii)

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Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003

Nationally Threatened Species and Ecological Communities Information Sheet

The Murray Cod has been listed as a vulnerable species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).

Where does the Murray Cod live?

The Murray Cod is the largest freshwater fish found in Australia. It is a long lived predator species that is highly territorial and aggressive. It occurs naturally in the waterways of the Murray–Darling Basin in a wide range of warm water habitats that range from clear, rocky streams to slow flowing turbid rivers and billabongs. The upper reaches of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers are considered too cold to contain suitable habitat.

Why is the Murray Cod threatened?

Current research on the Murray Cod provides sufficient evidence to indicate that:

  • the river systems where the Murray Cod occur continue to be subject to much disturbance, notably through the impoundment of natural riverine habitat by dams and weirs; and
  • as a result of past changes to its core habitat, recruitment to the adult breeding population has been, and is still, unsustainably low.

What other laws currently protect the Murray Cod?

In addition to the listing of the Murray Cod as a nationally threatened species under the EPBC Act,threatened ecological community Lowland Riverine Fish Community of the Southern Murray–Darling Basin (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988). Under this Victorian Act the taking, possession or trading of the Murray Cod is prohibited without a permit.

The Murray Cod is not listed as threatened in New South Wales, but is identified as a member of the listed endangered ecological community Aquatic Ecological Community in the Natural Drainage System of the Lower Murray River Catchment (Fisheries Management Act 1994).

Fisheries laws in each State and Territory govern the activities of recreational and commercial fishers and the operations of native fish hatcheries. This includes current restrictions on the activities of freshwater anglers through measures such as fishing gear restrictions; size and bag limits; and closed fishing seasons.

How does this listing decision relate to conservation initiatives already underway?

A significant number of Commonwealth, State and Territory programs are already underway that deal with a range of conservation measures relevant to the Murray Cod including resnagging programs, removing barriers to fish movement, improving environmental flows and habitat rehabilitation.

The Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council is developing and implementing a strategy to recover native fish in the Murray–Darling Basin.

The Council released the Draft Native Fish Strategy for the Murray–Darling 2002–2012 in July 2002. This strategy outlines a number of important initiatives that are directly relevant to the Murray Cod. They include: the allocation of environmental flows; habitat restoration work; the abatement of cold water pollution; the provision of fishways and fish passage; the establishment of an aquatic reserve system; carp management; and management of alien fish species. The Strategy has a proposed target of restoring native fish communities to 60% of their pre-European level within 50–60 years.

What are the implications of listing the Murray Cod as a nationally threatened species under the EPBC Act?

Listing of the Murray Cod as a nationally threatened species under the EPBC Act means that any action that is likely to have a significant impact on the species will need to be referred to the Commonwealth Environment Minister for a decision as to whether assessment and approval is required. It is an offence for any person to undertake an action that is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance (including a nationally listed threatened species) without approval.

Guidelines have been produced to assist people to identify whether their activity is likely to have a significant impact on a nationally listed species. These guidelines, EPBC Act Administrative Guidelines on Significance July 2000, can be obtained from the Environment Australia website or by contacting Environment Australia.

Examples of activities that may require referral under the EPBC Act include actions such as large-scale desnagging or the construction of large weirs or dams.

Individuals and organisations should consider the particular facts and circumstances of their activities in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral under the EPBC Act.You must make a referral for an activity if you think it may be likely to have a significant impact on the species.

How does this decision affect recreational and commercial fishing?

The legal catch of a recreational angler is unlikely to constitute a significant impact on the Murray Cod (but persons proposing these activities should consider the question for themselves). Recreational fishing is already regulated in all range States and Territories. These regulations restrict the activities of freshwater anglers through measures such as fishing gear restrictions; size and bag limits; and closed fishing seasons.

Commercial fishing only continues in South Australia however the South Australian Government is proposing to close its Murray Cod fishery in 2003. New areas opened up for the commercial fishing of Murray Cod or increases to existing commercial catch limits of Murray Cod may require referral under the Act.

What about irrigation schemes?

Irrigation schemes or any project requiring the large scale impoundment of water from a river system that supports the Murray Cod and its habitat may require a referral under the Act, if it does not satisfy the criteria for the 'continuing use' and 'prior authorisation’ exemptions (explained below).

What about fish restocking programs?

Translocation and fish restocking programs for Murray Cod occur in, and are controlled and regulated by, all range States and Territories. Restocking of Murray Cod occurs in many inland waters and impoundments for both conservation and recreational purposes.

Management of fish translocation and stocking is a key action of the Draft Murray–Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy 2002. Under this Strategy a number of projects are already underway that will improve our understanding of these issues and help minimise any risks associated with fish stocking, aquaculture and exotic diseases. These include moves toward a quality assurance program for hatcheries, evaluation of the genetics of wild, stocked and hatchery populations of Murray Cod, and better systems for cataloguing fish releases.

While it is unlikely that translocation and restocking would have a significant impact on the Murray Cod it is important and a requirement of the Act that individuals consider the particular facts and circumstances of their activities themselves in deciding whether they need to make a referral under the EPBC Act.You must make a referral for an activity if you think it may be likely to have a significant impact on the species.

How does this decision affect current activities?

The Commonwealth legislation allows for some exemptions to the requirement for assessment and approval. Any actions or activities you undertake, which involve the use of your land, do not require assessment or approval if you meet the following requirements.

Exemption due to prior authorisation

  • your action or activities were specifically authorised by a permit, or other authorisation, issued under a Commonwealth, State or Territory law before 16 July 2000; and
  • on 15 July 2000 (immediately before the EPBC Act started) you did not need any further permits or other authorisations to carry out your action or activity in compliance with all relevant environmental laws.

Exemption due to lawful continuation of land use

  • you started your action or activity before 16 July 2000;
  • your action or activity does not have, and does not require, any permit or other authorisation to be carried out in compliance with all relevant laws; and
  • your action or activity has continued in the same location without any enlargement, expansion or intensification.

Please note that an EPBC Act approval does not remove the need to obtain the necessary State or Territory government authorisations or other Commonwealth authorisations, including permits under the EPBC Act, for an activity.

Where can I get further information?

Administrative Guidelines regarding what constitutes a ‘significant impact’, referral forms and a guide for submitting a referral can be obtained from the EPBC website or by contacting Environment Australia’s Community Information Unit on 1800 803 772.

A copy of the criteria used to list the Murray Cod under the EPBC Act as well as the listing advice can also be obtained from: Nominations of species, ecological community or threatening process.

Funding for projects to recover threatened species and ecological communities is available through the Threatened Species Network Community Grants, which are normally opened for application in autumn each year. More information is available at Threatened Species Network (TSN). Small community based projects may also be eligible for funding under Envirofund grants; more information on these grants is available at Australian Government Envirofund (http://www.nht.gov.au/envirofund/) .

You may also wish to participate in the development and implementation of your region's Natural Resource Management Plan. In this case, contact your local land management agency.

Further information on the Murray Cod may also be obtained from the websites of the following organisations: