Murray River fish ready to join the party

Widely recognised as an icon of Australia’s inland waterways, Murray Cod is emerging as a species with significant commercial potential. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15 Murray Cod farmgate production value increased on average 29 per cent a year, to more than $3.6 million, with several new entrants to the industry.

Hatchery techniques for both Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) and Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) were developed in the 1970s at the Inland Fisheries Research Station at Narrandera, to stock farm dams and impoundments – NSW has been the main centre for commercial production of both.

Since 1994 Silver Perch has been the focus of expanding freshwater aquaculture and projections were for incremental growth. Murray Cod was barely a blip on the horizon. Manager of aquaculture for NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Ian Lyall, says the Silver Perch industry pioneered the farming of native freshwater fish species. Although the number of growers has consolidated in recent years, those remaining are operating profitably to meet existing market demand.

Today, there is a new groundswell of support for Murray Cod. From just 16 tonnes produced in NSW in 2006-07 Murray Cod production rose to an estimated 230 tonnes nationally in 2014-15 – 176 tonnes of this from NSW, with smaller quantities from Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

Ian Lyall says the research into the fish handling, production systems, diet, health management, and even some marketing for Silver Perch, is also proving valuable for Murray Cod. Earlier this year the FRDC and NSW DPI jointly funded a review to identify R&D needs for Murray Cod. This was presented at a freshwater aquaculture forum in Griffith in September 2016 in conjunction with the Freshwater Native Fish Association and NSW Aquaculture Association. It attracted more than 120 participants and Murray Cod was a major focus of the two-day event.

“One of the exciting aspects of Murray Cod is the potential to incorporate it as part of a diversified farm business, to integrate it with cropping or hydroponics and reuse the water,” Ian Lyall says. Silver Perch and Murray Cod are popular as a live fish sold in metropolitan centres, particularly to Asian restaurants. However, Murray Cod offers greater versatility for chefs, and graces menus at many high-profile Australian restaurants.

Among those investing in Murray Cod production is Timpetra Resources. It has bought Silverwater Native Fish hatchery and fish nursery Bidgee Fresh. It has also bought Riverina Aquaculture, which built new ponds this year to expand its production. Timpetra chairman Ross Anderson says this will increase capacity from 40 to 100 tonnes within the next few years.

“Using contract farmers, we want to expand production to 900 to 1000 tonnes within five years,” he says. “We need to build the domestic market for a start. There is high demand from chefs for the fish, which has clean, white flesh with a high fat content. Western restaurants particularly want two to three kilograms of whole fish. We’ve also had interest from overseas but they want large quantities we can’t supply yet – 500 tonnes or 1000 tonnes.”

The  potential of Murray Cod aquaculture featured on ABC’s Landline in September. 

More information

Joshua Fielding, joshua.fielding@frdc.com.au
02 6285 0421