Fishing Lobby Trumps Murray Cod Recovery (The Native Fish Strategy for the Murray Darling Ten Years On: Part 3)

THE key recommendation in the Native Fish Strategy for the Murray Darling Basin 2003-2013 – a document developed by the Murray Darling Basin Commission, (MDBC) and adopted by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) – was the need to address the issue of cold water pollution in particular from the Hume dam.

The strategy, published ten years ago, includes comment that cold-water pollution abatement is a “clearly definable, tangible, cost-effective intervention” that can be completed for the major storages in the Murray Darling Basin within ten years, through a combination of engineering and operating changes. The strategy was to run from 2003 to 2013 with the objective of returning native fish to 60 per cent of their pre-European levels.

Hume Dam, like most of the dams throughout the Murray Darling, have outlets for irrigation positioned at depth, so water release occurs as a jet of cold water. Releases are typically made in spring and this is the same time Murray cod and other native fish like to spawn. Murray Cod Wikipedia

Ecological studies undertaken in the 1990s indicate that in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, releases of cold water create an “eternal winter” making it impossible for spawning – for reproduction.

Everything published by the MDBC and MDBA suggests the problem could be solved by retrofitting dams with multi-level outlets.

There are other options, outlined in the many reports that have been commissioned and published over the years, including artificial destratification through mechanical mixing.

But absolutely nothing has been done.

The workshops and consultancies continue, but nothing has been done to help the fish in a practical way.

I found this curious. Indeed there has been no shortage of money.

Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent: buying back water to improve the river environment; installing fishways so fish can swim up to just below the Hume dam; tonnes of micro-chipped logs have even been tipped into the Murray River immediately downstream of Hume dam to create the best possible habitat for Murray cod.

So why not address this remaining key issue, indeed the issue identified as the most important and the easiest to implement ten years ago?

After reading everything I could find I tried my usual option of last resort – phoning a government bureaucrat. After some haranguing from me, it was finally admitted that it’s the trout lobby, the fly fish lobby – stupid!

They don’t want the cold water pollution fixed. The “eternal winter” is good for the European fish.

What a farce!

So all the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent luring Murray cod up the river to just below Hume dam are to be wasted. Indeed they may simply hasten the decline of this majestic species because the river remains freezing cold – in an eternal winter – because the fly fish lobby trumps the native fish strategy.

The Native Fish Strategy is reviewed in a recent conference paper by Jennifer Marohasy and John Abbot entitled ‘Deconstructing the native fish strategy for Australia’s Murray Daring Catchment’ published by the Wessex Institute and available for free download at

This article was first published as a column in The Land newspaper last Thursday.

The photograph is from Wikipedia.

28 Responses to Fishing Lobby Trumps Murray Cod Recovery (The Native Fish Strategy for the Murray Darling Ten Years On: Part 3)

  1. Debbie June 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    . . .Indeed there has been no shortage of money. . . 🙂
    That’s probably the salient point!

  2. Susan June 19, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Have to convince those fly fishers to fish for real fish and not those sissy trout… Imagine pulling in a giant cod on a fly rod.

  3. Debbie June 19, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    Good one Susan, 🙂
    One of my friends caught a monster Murray Cod a couple of weeks ago.
    She loves fishing. . . but she never keeps them. . . she kisses them and returns them to the ‘bidgee.
    NO WAY it would be caught by fly fishing. 🙂
    Defintely sissy.

  4. John Sayers June 20, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    Surely the fly fishing lobby has adequate access to cold water fish upstream from the Hume Dam on the Murray and Mitta Mitta rivers and throughout the Snowy Scheme. They also have access to cold water trout fishing in the Tumut and upper Murrumbidgee rivers. As I’ve suggested before we need a new lake at the joining of these two rivers upstream from Gundagai so the Murrumbidgee becomes a warm water environment for native fish.

    May I add that the PEOPLE of the Riverina deserve a warm water environment for recreational swimming and boating in spring and during their wonderful hot, dry, summers!! Perhaps the combined councils of the Riverina could overpower the fly fishing lobby and return the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers to warm water environments.

  5. Bernard Wydder June 20, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Never understood this catching-kissing-releasing business.

    Why torture an innocent creature for no practical reason?

    Want excitement, adventure?
    Play a computer game or go for a walk in the forest or take a canoeing trip on wild rivers, climb a mountain.

    I fish and hunt and I take them home and we eat them.

  6. John Sayers June 21, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    Most times I feel like I’m posting in a vacuum on this site.

    Oh well back to Jo’s site where at least you get feedback and often by Jo herself.

  7. FarmerDoug2 June 21, 2013 at 8:21 am #


    It’s not a complete vacuum.


  8. Dennis Webb June 21, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    I’ve not seen anything about cold water pollution in the Murray Darling at Jo’s blog… nor on the website of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

  9. jennifer June 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Hi John Sayers,

    You have made a tremendous contribution to this blog over many years!

    I certainly don’t work as hard as Jo Nova to keep the conversation going, indeed I have a very different style and other interests and obligations. And I have been lucky that you and many others have so often picked up the slack when I have ‘gone fishing’.

    But overall I hope that it has been as worth it for you, as it has for me. And I’m not about to pack-up now, too many people have invested too much and with a consistent 5,000 plus individual page views in an average week when not much is happening, this blog can’t be totally dismissed.

    Please hang-in there! Sometimes when it appears no-one is talking, it is because they are all listening to you.

    Best, Jen

    PS. I have been reading what you have been writing about cold water pollution and potential solutions, but I haven’t any thing particular to add because I’m not sure about the feasibility of your solutions and I feel I need to learn more. Also I’ve been sent some material from a fly fisherman, but at the moment I’m distracted reading through Bob Carter’s new book amongst other things.

  10. John Sayers June 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    Thanks Jen – I appreciate your feedback – I am concerned with the cold water pollution ever since I lived in Wagga Wagga back in the late 80s- 90s – the Murrumbidgee in spring/summer was freezing and I always wondered how the fish survived as I couldn’t last more than 5 minutes. During those long hot summers we would go down to Wagga beach and you cooled off but you couldn’t hang around in the water.

    So naturally when you bought this topic up I was onto it. I visited the Tumut/snowy area a lot, I even canoed down the Tumut river so I’ve well versed in the area.

    I thought my last suggestion, to get the councils to fight for a warm water solution is feasible and I was hoping Debbie might weigh in on that factor as she would be aware of the river further downstream.

  11. Luke June 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    John – would like me to chuck a wobbly ? But I basically agree here. I think you actually enjoy a bit of biffo and rhetorical violence.

    Anyways – Snackas have a new album coming out

    and I’ve been off line sussing out this techo stuff

  12. John Sayers June 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    wow Luke – that FPV is amazing. Do you have one??

  13. Luke June 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    Nah I’ve only got the $300 EB Games version below (well kids do and me as a big kid); but I’m thinking about it.

    and no I don’t use dangerously around people like in the hypey advert.

    Back on the FPV this Juz70’s best one yet.

    Custom kit but I’m sure he’d help you acqquire it if you were keen. Here this is amazing development with robotics

    I’m interested in in UAVs for resource survey – and before Jen snips me – these things are quite handy for river survey when you want to program a meandering riverine survey route and need high resolution to count those dead River Red Gums (hahahaha) (there is also satellite and aerial photography of course but it’s a cost/resolution/skill issue to consider).

    And do it on skis in the Alps ! also by Sensefly you shake them to start. Real smarts is in the software – autopilot and post processing to stitch the photographs together and generate the 3D orthomosaics.

  14. John Sayers June 23, 2013 at 1:29 am #

    I must say I’m concerned my privacy will be interrupted by nerds like you buzzing around me when I want peace and quiet. Will it be legal for me to shoot them down?

    Maybe we should get back to the topic at hand – cold water pollution. It’s a serious subject.

  15. Peter S June 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Well said JS.

    It is interesting how there is so much fluff about returning environmental flows to the Murray (and many other rivers) and yet seemingly little discussion on exactly what sort of environment this is meant to restore. Cold water pollution is not unique to the Murray, but it is relatively easy to address. The simplest, and least expensive is destratification. This is regular practice for Sugarloaf Reservoir east of Melbourne, albeit for different reasons.

  16. Luke June 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Well – will a big aquarium air-stone work to de-stratify the impoundments?

    Anyway is it important to restore Cod to the Murray – aren’t there plenty of other rivers in the MDB for the species. Surely the role of the river as an agricultural irrigation ditch is more important?

  17. John Sayers June 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Luke – the four major rivers are The Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and the Goulburn. Only the Lachlan doesn’t suffer from cold water pollution.

  18. Luke June 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    Well there is also the Darling and the entire northern MDB. Don’t be totally southern-centric.

  19. John Sayers June 23, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    Sure Luke , point taken, but it’s the Murray Darling system – if half the system is cold water polluted do you approve of that?

  20. John Sayers June 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm #

    and the Murrumbidgee – Murray being half the system is debatable.

  21. el gordo June 24, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    ‘THE future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is under threat, with Queensland rejecting proposed commonwealth agreements on the first stage of the river rescue as NSW and South Australia refuse to sign-up to a $1.7 billion funding deal on water saving measures.

    ‘Queensland Premier Campbell Newman yesterday wrote to Julia Gillard saying he could not support the planned implementation of cuts in water usage as he also attacked the commonwealth’s failure to fund state proposals to develop alternate industries in the affected regions.’

    McKenna and Neals in the Oz

  22. Luke June 24, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Well John it’s Murray and lower MDB is heavily flow modified and not a natural system in the slightest. The normal cut and thrust on here is that dams are great, development and agriculture rules OK, some lands set aside for ag production etc. So why are all so suddenly excited about the Murray being an irrigation ditch? Does it matter? Is the Murray Cod important? How can cold water suddenly be pollution – sounds like CO2 pollution doesn’t it.

  23. Ian Thomson June 24, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Hi js,
    I agree with others . Some times when somethiung is stated it is complete and apart from saying rah rah , I for one don’t comment.
    Hi el gordo,
    I know that I have banged on here about “mad” Bob Katter, but he is vowing to pressure any Govt to ditch the Water Act. (And the plan). He appears to be in a position to really hurt the other traitors in Qld in the next election. Perhaps after NSW virtually rubber stamped the whole MDBP , they got home to their electorates and the bubble burst.
    ( Much as actuallyhappened when Congress passed cap and trade in the US and some Congressmen filtting home for Thanksgiving, were apparently met on the tarmac by outraged constituents. )
    Campbell Newman may be sniffing the wind and thinking of his next election.
    We also can’t discount the power of the new owners of Cubby Station , that little political movement called the Chinese Communist Party. They had the power to swing the deal over seeming better ones, so how much swing do they have.
    The interesting tale of Mr Drinkworth and the local shires being overruled, (by Brisbane), on the use of local stock routes during a drought , to move thousands of interstate cattle, casts a little light on Mr Newman’s Govt and influence .My thoughts anyway and local people there, on the news, seem to agree.
    And Jen , as you know , the city voters solution would be simply remove the dams. So as usual, no votes in common sense. No crisis in trout vs cod.

  24. Debbie June 24, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    ha! 🙂
    Good one Bernard.
    Her husband and her father completely agree with you.
    John, by the time the water reaches my patch it is warm. We also get plenty of Cod (among other things) in the main canal and major anabranches in the MIA.
    Luke, while you are somewhat correct about the fact that the ‘bidgee & the Murray & the Tumut are highly regulated below the major storages, you once again fail to see that human intervention has BENEFITS and that we CAN identify and repair mistakes.
    Seriously, the Cod, the yabbies, the turtles etc ect, don’t care if it’s a river or a channel.
    Directly below the dams, that water can be freezing.
    But if you’re looking for anomolies, look further downstream as well. . . some of the complaining SA contingent are claiming that the storages are making the water too warm!
    BTW John,
    I always read your comments and appreciate your perspective. Lately I have not had the luxury to spend lots of time commenting.

  25. I June 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Yes Deb, I agree with Bernard too. He is dead right.

  26. John Sayers June 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    So do I Deb and Bernard – I can’t watch fishing programs. They also don’t realise that fish travel in schools, it’s their protection, remove them and then throw them back and they’ve lost their protection.

  27. Stephen Williams July 10, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Hi Jen, Love your work but I think you were fobbed off by the unamed government official. I live in the upper Kiewa Valley and am a keen fly fisher for 45 years. I’ve never heard of any fly fisherman speak about fishing below Hume Weir for trout, much less the temperature of the outflow. I suppose that there may be trout in those reaches but it’s not a major fly fishing place. I reckon he told you that to get rid of you.

    In the meantime I just watch the valleys up here get choked with blackberry while the parks dept drive around in their 4WD’s telling people what to do.

  28. Stephen Williams July 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Re John Sayers comment about fish in schools. It does happen but most river fish are solo creatures and getting caught and thrown back doesn’t hurt them unless poorly done. I have occasionally caught fish that have relatively good condition hooks in them, that alone indicates that being caught and released doesn’t affect them.

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