Freshwater, Fish and the Future: Proceedings of the Global Cross-Sectoral Conference

Assessing Inland Fisheries: What Can Be Learned from Australia’s Murray—Darling Basin?

John D. Koehn


Abstract .—The collection and use of data to manage the freshwater fisheries of Australia’s Murray–Darling basin (MDB) has a poor history of success. While there was limited assessment data for early subsistence and commercial fisheries, even after more robust data became available during the 1950s its quality varied across jurisdictions and was often poorly collated, assessments were not completed, and the data were underutilized by management. The fishery for Murray Cod Maccullochella peelii is given as an example, where the fishery declined to the point of closure and then the decline continued to the extent that Murray Cod was listed as a threatened species and all harvest now only occurs through the recreational fishery. Lessons from such poor population assessments have not been fully learned, however, as there remains a paucity of harvest data for this recreational fishery. Without a proper assessment, a true economic valuation of this fishery has not been made. As the MDB is Australia’s food bowl, there are competing demands for water use by agriculture, and without a proper assessment of the worth of the fishery, it is difficult for Murray Cod to be truly considered in either economic or sociopolitical discussions. The poor state of MDB rivers and their fish populations (including Murray Cod) has, however, resulted in political pressure for the development of the sustainable rivers audit, a common assessment method for riverine environmental condition monitoring. This audit undertakes standardized sampling for fish and a range of other variables at a number of fixed and randomly selected sites on a 3-year rotating basis. While the sustainable rivers audit has provided a range of data indicating that the condition of rivers is generally very poor, these data have yet to be fully utilized to determine the potential state of the fisheries (such as Murray Cod) or to set targets for rehabilitation, such as for environmental flows. While, to date, data analyses have been somewhat restricted by fiscal constraints, more comprehensive use of data, together with full fishery valuations, should be seen as the way forward for improved management.