Care for cod campaign launch

Anthony Forster

Manager Freshwater Fisheries, Victorian Fisheries Authority

Old photo of trophy cod
Angler attitudes and respect for Murray cod have changed a lot.

In 2015, the Victorian Fisheries Authority (previously, Fisheries Victoria) introduced new fishery regulations for Murray cod including; a minimum size limit of 55 cm and a maximum size limit of 75 cm. Based on innovative science, these regulations were supported by a reference group of leading Murray cod recreational fishers. The reference group's support however, was conditional on the need to encourage better Murray cod handling practices among anglers. The proposition was simple, if regulations result in more anglers catching and releasing large Murray cod, let's make sure the bigger breeding fish are not compromised by catch and release methods.

At last year's inaugural Murray Codference, Dr Paul Hardy Smith gave a presentation that highlighted, how big Murray cod are particularly vulnerable to poor recreational fish handling practices.  This presentation was supported by a literature review of fish handling practices that revealed some leading international and local research on fish physiology and handling practices. At that Codference, the VFA agreed to develop a campaign to raise awareness and help fishers understand the importance of handling big Murray cod.

The four point plan

Here are the key messages, the Victorian Fisheries Authority will use as part of its campaign to maximise the chance of anglers successfully releasing a big Murray cod;

1. Be prepared.

To land a big Murray cod, remove hooks, photograph, revive, and release it successfully, requires careful planning and the right gear. Good organisation will ensure a quick release, reduce stress on fish and maximise the chance of the fish surviving. Here are some simple tips for anglers:

  • Use a soft knotless or rubber landing net
  • Have sturdy gloves close and on standby - to protect hands and grip the lower jaw.
  • Avoid lip grippers that bruise or damage fish mouth & jaws.
  • Long nosed pliers should be on standby to remove hooks.
  • Make sure fish length measures are ready to go and wetted down.
  • Your camera should be ready and handy.

2. Reduce air time

A fish can't breathe out of water so, after an exhausting fight, they need water and time to recover.

  • If possible, keep your cod in the water at all times. If safe to do so, get in the water with your prized fish for a great action photo.
  • If you decide to lift the fish out of the water, do it gently and quickly - aim for 30 seconds or less air exposure.
Cod in the water
Where ever possible, keep your Murray cod in the water to reduce stress and maximise its chances of survival on release.

3. Gently does it

  • If lifting a cod, support the whole fish and don't "hang' the fish vertically - that can damage the spine and gill structure.
  • Protect the skin - don't place the fish on dry, sharp or hot surfaces.
  • Revive the fish slowly to allow water flow over the gills - don't move the fish forward and backwards in the water.
Supporting cod
If the waters deep and cold to get in with your fish, and you need that trophy fish photo, it’s important to be prepared, support the fish and keep it under 30 seconds.

4. Use the right gear

  • Use appropriate gear. A big cod on light line will be exhausted and may not recover.  Heavier line reduces the time to land the fish.
  • When fishing with bait, use large circle hooks (and tight line) to reduce the chance of deep hooking.
Cod friendly gear
Circle hooks are good example of “cod friendly gear” that can reduce the chances of deep hooking damage
Wear Gloves to avoid injury
Gloves are a great way to avoid injury to yourself and jaw damage to a thrashing Murray cod

Getting the key messages out

These key messages will be widely promoted to anglers as part of a campaign jointly promoted by; Victorian Fisheries Authority, VrFish and the tackle industry. Here are some of the key elements of the communication plan:

Video:

  • 3 - 5 minute fishing demonstration video on better handling practices via social media.

Poster:

  • Large format (A3) poster and A4 flyers with key messages sent to tackle stores, clubs & events

Boat / car stickers:

  • Simplified key messages sent to tackle sores, clubs and events.

Media release

  • Circulate to media outlets (interview follow ups)

Webpage:

  • Victorian Fisheries Authority Webpage

Fish e-fax newsletter

  • Circulation to 26,000 angler email subscribers

Magazine ads

  • Print and internet magazine advertisements

Promoting cod friendly gear

Another way to get better Murray cod handling messages out to anglers is to promote fishing gear that reduces the risk of damage to fish. The Victorian Fisheries Authority is in discussion with a number of tackle stores about an 'accreditation tag' that could be used to promote cod friendly tackle such as: circle hooks, large rubber knotless nets, long-nosed pliers, gloves, etc.