Protecting trout cod - A guide for fishers

Trout cod (also known as bluenose cod) can grow to 85 cm in length and 16 kg in weight, although they more commonly occur to lengths up to 50 cm and weights up to 1.5 kg. These large, predatory freshwater fish used to be widespread throughout the southern tributaries of the Murray–Darling system. Trout cod have declined over the last several decades to a point where there is only one remaining natural population in NSW in the Murray River between Yarrawonga weir and Torrumbarry. Reasons for the decline of trout cod include illegal fishing, habitat degradation and modification and the adverse impacts of introduced fish species.

Trout cod are listed as an endangered species under NSW and Commonwealth law.

This guide explains the initiatives that are being undertaken and how you can help save trout cod and assist in the recovery of the species.

Identifying a trout cod

Harming trout cod is illegal so it’s important that fishers can distinguish trout cod from the similar looking Murray cod. Juvenile Murray cod are easily mistaken for trout cod. A prominent feature often used to identify trout cod is a dark horizontal eye stripe on the side of the head.

Juvenile Murray cod and trout cod, both have an eye stripe.
Juvenile Murray cod (top) and trout cod (bottom). Note the presence of the eye stripe in both.

However, the eye stripe is not a reliable distinguishing feature as juvenile Murray cod often possess a similar stripe and the stripe is often absent, broken or indistinct on trout cod. Other more reliable features should be used to distinguish trout cod from Murray cod.

Juvenile Murray cod and trout cod, both have an eye stripe.

Habitats

Trout cod and Murray cod often occupy similar habitats including faster flowing water with rocky and gravel bottoms as well as slower flowing, turbid lowland rivers. However, Murray cod have a much wider distribution. Both species use the cover of large woody debris, however trout cod prefer higher flows in the middle of channels or downstream of bends. Murray cod tend to be found around snags in slower flowing water as well as around undercut banks and overhanging vegetation.

Trout cod stocking

NSW DPI runs a trout cod conservation stocking program to reintroduce trout cod to areas within their former range and to establish breeding populations of the species. NSW DPI has been stocking trout cod at a limited number of sites with relatively large numbers of fish. Currently NSW DPI has evidence of breeding in one stocked population but it is too early to determine if the population is self-sustaining, and there is limited evidence to suggest that widespread breeding is occurring. NSW DPI continues to monitor these sites to gain a clearer understanding of the effectiveness of the stocking program in contributing to trout cod recovery. For these reasons it is very important that any trout cod accidentally caught should be immediately released unharmed at their place of capture.

The aggressive nature of trout cod makes them relatively easy to catch, and they are often incidentally caught by anglers targeting other species. The apparent abundance of trout cod at some stocking sites often leads people to believe that the species has recovered and is no longer in danger of extinction. However, surveys by NSW DPI researchers have shown that trout cod typically make up less than 10% of the angleable fish community at most of the stocking sites.

Trout cod are at a critical stage in their recovery

Reestablishment of trout cod at a small number of locations represents the early stages of recovery of the species. Trout cod are still considered to be in danger of extinction from factors such as habitat modification and degradation, illegal fishing activities and the adverse impacts of introduced species. The recovery of trout cod relies on an ongoing concerted effort by government authorities and the wider community.

Deliberately fishing for trout cod is illegal and significant penalties apply

If you catch a trout cod accidentally you must release it immediately, causing the least possible harm. ALL FISHING IS PROHIBITED during September to November inclusive within the Trout Cod Protection Area (TCPA) downstream of Yarrawonga Weir to the Tocumwal Road Bridge.

Fishing for Murray cod is prohibited in NSW during the Murray cod seasonal closure from September to November inclusive. Set lines are banned in the TCPA and other rules apply. Check the NSW Department of Primary Industries website at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au for further details.

Where to from here?

A recovery plan has been prepared for trout cod that sets out the actions required to recover the species to a position of viability in nature. A specific objective of the recovery plan is to establish at least two self-sustaining populations of trout cod.

The independent Fisheries Scientific Committee is responsible for listing threatened species of fish and marine vegetation and for reviewing scientific information to assess whether a species should be downgraded or de-listed from the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994. The Committee assesses the eligibility of each species for listing against criteria set out in the Fisheries Management (General) Regulation 2002. Trout cod will be de-listed when they cease to be eligible for listing as a threatened species in accordance with the criteria set out in the regulations.

Handy fishing tips

When fishing, some tips to increase trout cod’s chances of survival once caught include:

  • Bring the fish in quickly – a long fight stresses a fish and it is more likely to die.
  • If deeply hooked, cut the line as close to the mouth as possible rather than removing hooks from gut or gills. 
  • Use barbless hooks – unhooking is easier and safer for both you and the fish if you flatten barbs on hooks.
  • Avoid lifting the fish from the water if possible.
  • Support the weight of the fish – if you have to remove the fish from the water use wet hands and support the fish’s body weight to reduce injury and stress. 
  • Don’t use a net to pick the fish up unless it is made of knotless mesh. 
  • Avoid fishing in areas where trout cod may occur during the breeding season (September to November). This coincides with the seasonal fishing closure for Murray cod. 
  • Use lures rather than bait in areas where you might catch trout cod as lures reduce the number of gut hooked fish and make releasing fish easier and quicker. 
  • If you find you are catching trout cod or other protected species consider changing your location, baits or fishing rigs.

4 Things you can do to help trout cod recover

  1. Take a moment to study this guide and familiarise yourself with the appearance of trout cod and other similar looking species such as Murray cod.
  2. If you catch a trout cod, or any other threatened species, release it carefully causing the least possible harm.
  3. Get involved in trout cod habitat rehabilitation and report any damage to trout cod habitat (such as removal of large woody debris, new barriers to fish passage, recent removal of riverbank vegetation or water pollution) to the NSW DPI Aquatic Habitat Rehabilitation Unit on (02) 6042 4200.
  4. If you catch or see a trout cod record the details including: your name and address, date, exact location (e.g. name of waterbody and other location information such as the grid reference on a road map, as well as the name of the road map and the edition number, or closest road crossing or town) and the estimated size of the fish. 

To report a sighting:

Threatened Species Unit
Port Stephens Fisheries Centre
Locked Bag 1
Nelson Bay NSW 2315
Fax: 02 4982 1107

For further information phone the fisheries information and advisory line on 1300 550 474