Murray cod are the ones that should get away
Woven into the fabric of fishing folklore is the tale we all know - the 'one that got away'.
But today's tale is of not one, but two colossal giants, two majestic fish that really should have got away, to live to tell the tale of another day.
Sadly, our ecologists recently recovered two mature Murray cod, found dead on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. Both fish were more than a metre long and tipped the scales at 20 kilograms.
Tragically the female was only a few weeks away from contributing to the next generation, potentially laying up to 100,000 eggs.
These formidable, long-lived predators of the aquatic world occupy a special place in our ancient rivers, consuming anything that fits in their enormous mouth.
Today the mighty Murray cod is nationally a threatened species. To help their recovery, the annual closed fishing season for Murray cod runs from September 1 through to November 30. While Murray cod more than 75 centimetres long are fully protected all year round, because the bigger, older fish are better breeders, all Murray cod are fully protected during breeding hiatus.
Male Murray cod exhibit an extraordinary degree of parental care for their thousands of eggs. They guard their nest sites with vigour, protecting and chasing away any intruders. Susceptible to a fishing hook disguised as a lure, Murray cod are vulnerable. If taken, a horde of smaller fish and shrimp quickly devour unguarded eggs.
The ripple effect is obvious.
With an eye to the future, a management plan has been crafted with the view of returning the Murray cod to its prime predator position. With thousands of fingerlings already released into our urban lakes each year to bolster recreational fishing, the plan also calls for action further afield to support the wild population in our rivers.
The removal of weirs, artificial barriers and obstacles, which hinder the fish from moving throughout their home range, is a critical step along this journey. Building on the success of engineered log jams near Tharwa, in which timber has been strategically placed in the river around which water swirls to create cool, deep holes, is vital in providing refuge for the cod to harbour their young.
If you inadvertently hook a Murray cod during the current closed season or one smaller than 55 or bigger than 75 centimetres at any other time, simply release it as quickly as possible. You are returning a caring parent to raise the next generation of a truly extraordinary freshwater fish.
For more information call Access Canberra on 13 22 81 or visit www.environment.act.gov.au
Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks Conservation Service.
Article also appeared in The Chronicle