True Tales of the Trout Cod

True Tales of the Trout Cod
True Tales of the Trout Cod - cover.

True Tales of the Trout Cod – cover.

Trout cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) are a nationally endangered species and are now restricted to just a handful of breeding populations in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). One of the main goals of the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was to return native fish communities in the MDB to 60% of that prior to European settlement. Fundamental to realising this goal is knowledge of the original distribution and abundance of fish fauna in the MDB. However, there has been limited readily available information on the rivers and their fish populations at the time of European settlement.

The aims of this project, undertaken by the Australian River Restoration Centre, were to:

  1. Collect, collate and analyse historical information on native fish in the southern half of the Murray-Darling Basin;
  2. Identify the original distribution and habitat preferences of Trout cod and resolve the ongoing debate on this issue;
  3. Identify the original distribution and habitat preferences of the other large fish species, primarily those of interest to anglers;
  4. Collect general historical information on native fish, in particular aspects of their biology;
  5. Document changes or events that may have contributed to the decline of native fish;
  6. Present the information collected in a format to assist scientists and managers engaged in the recovery of native fish but also accessible to the general public so as to increase community awareness of the plight of Trout cod and other native fish species.

The project produced a range of communication products including booklets, seventeen videos with Will Trueman (some shown below) talking about different river histories, and a website.  To view all these products visit the True Tales of the Trout Cod website.



A wealth of information has been collected from across the MDB on Trout Cod from historical sources, which included newspaper records, journal entries, indigenous accounts, naturalist’s notes and personal photographs. Viable information was also gathered on a number of other larger fish species e.g. Murray cod, Golden perch (Macquaria ambigua ambigua), Silver perch (Bidyanua bidyanus), Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica), Catfish (Tandanus tandanus) and River blackfish (Gadopsis marmoratus). For each of these species the following information is presented:

  • European discovery
  • Aboriginal and European names
  • Historical distribution and habitat associations, including maps of former distribution
  • Translocations
  • Size
  • Community value
  • Current conservation status
  • Map of former distribution and abundance

From this information a reliable indication of the pre-European settlement distribution and abundance of the larger native fish species of the MDB can be made.

Implications for native fish

The output of this project provides an indication of the distribution and abundance of Trout cod and other large native fish species in the MDB prior European settlement. By examining this information, researchers and managers can get an idea of what populations of Trout cod used to be like and set targets for rehabilitation efforts to achieve the goal of the NFS to return native fish populations back to 60% of their condition before European settlement.

The project has created a fascinating narrative around native fish in the Basin through a range of different communication products.


Trueman, W. T. (2011). True Tales of the Trout Cod: River Histories of the Murray-Darling Basin. MDBA Publication No. 215/11.

Anderson, H. K., 1918. Rescue operations on the Murrumbidgee River. Australian Zoologist, 1:157-160.

Cadwallader, P.L. (1977). J.O. Langtry’s 1949-50 Murray River Investigations. Fisheries and Wildlife Paper No.13. Fisheries and Wildlife Division, Victoria.

Cadwallader, P.L. (1978). Some causes of the decline in range and abundance of native fish in the Murray-Darling River system. proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria: 211-224.

Douglas, J.W., Gooley, G.L., and Ingram, B.A. (1994). Trout cod, Maccullochella macquariensis (Cuvier) (Pisces:Percichthydae). Resource handbook and research and recovery plan. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Melbourne.

Ebner, B., Thiem, J., Lintermans, M. and Gilligan, D. (2006). An Ecological Approach to Re-establishing Australian Freshwater Cod Populations: An Application to Trout Cod in the Murrumbidgee Catchment. Final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation for Project 2003/034. Environment ACT, Canberra.

Bennett, G., 1864. Notes on the River Cod and perch of the colonists. In: Third Annual Report of the Acclimatization Society of New South Wales.

Bennett, G., 1867. Pp49-50 in: Annual Report of the Acclimatisation Society of New South Wales. Sydney.

Boulton, A., Berney, P., & Panizzon, D., 2004. More than just a good story: Lessons learnt from oral histories of Australian rivers. Pp108-113 in: Proceedings of the 4th Australian Stream Management Conference, 19-22 October, Launceston, Tasmania.

Bride, T. F. & Sayers, C. E., 1969. Letters from Victorian Pioneers: Being a Series of Papers on the Early Occupation of the Colony, the Aborigines, Etc. Addressed by Victorian Pioneers to His Excellency Charles Joseph La Trobe, Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Victoria. Melbourne: Heinemann.

Dakin, W. J. & Kesteven, G. L., 1938. The Murray Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) (Cuv. Et Val.). NSW Chief Secretary’s Department, Fisheries Research Bulletin, No. 1.

Dannevig, H. C., 1903. Summary of evidence regarding the Murray cod fisheries, with notes. In: Murray Cod Fisheries. Extracts of Evidence collected by the South Australian Authorities during October 1900 with Notes. Sydney: New South Wales Department of Fisheries.

Macleay, W., 1885. New Fishes from the Upper Murrumbidgee.  Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW.  10: 267-269 and notes on 246.

Mallen-Cooper, M., 1993. Habitat changes and declines of freshwater fish in Australia: what is the evidence and do we need more?   Pp 118-123 in D. Hancock (Ed), Australian Society for Fish Biology Workshop on Sustaining fisheries through sustaining habitat. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

McCoy, F., 1884. Oligorus Macquariensis. The Murray Cod-Perch. In: Prodromus of the Natural History of Victoria. Pp 19 -22 plus plates 85 and 86.

Roberts, J & Sainty, G., 1997. Oral history as a tool in historical ecology: Lachlan River as a case study. Canberra: CSIRO.

Robertson, M., Nichols, P., Horwitz, P., Bradby, K., & MacKintosh, D., 2000. Environmental narratives and the need for multiple perspectives to restore degraded landscapes in Australia. Ecosystem Health, 6: 119-133.

Stead, D. G., 1929a.  Introduction of the great carp Cyprinus carpio into waters of New South Wales. Australian Zoologist, 6: 100-102.

Trueman, W. T., 2007. Some Recollections of Native Fish in the Murray-Darling System with Special Reference to the Trout Cod Maccullochella macquariensis. Melbourne: Native Fish Australia (Victoria) Incorporated.

Trueman, W. T. & Luker, C., 1992. Fishing Yesteryear: The recollections of R. D. McKenzie. Freshwater Fishing, 17: 34-38.

Zeitz, A. H. C., 1902. List of the edible fish of the lower Murray. Transactions of the Royal Society of  South Australia, 26: 265-267.

Zeitz, A. H. C., 1908.  A synopsis of the fishes of South Australia.  Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 32: 288-299.

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