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Ground zero

Thursday, 10th January, 2019

NSW Minister Niall Blair speaks with concerned Menindee locals on the banks of the Darling River.PICTURE: Myles Burt NSW Minister Niall Blair speaks with concerned Menindee locals on the banks of the Darling River.PICTURE: Myles Burt

By Myles Burt

Minister orders fish restock plan

NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair travelled to Menindee yesterday to see first-hand the catastrophe of the weekend’s massive fish kill.

NSW Fisheries officers took the Minister on a tour of the blue-green algae-infested river, which now holds hundreds of thousands of dead native fish.

The Minister has requested the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and WaterNSW prepare an “urgent report” on the fish kill and clean up, which will be made public.

He also asked DPI to begin preparing for the recovery of the fish stocks when conditions improve.

Each year DPI breeds up to one million Golden Perch and 400,000 Murray Cod, which are released into our river systems. Restocking fish will be critical in this area.

WaterNSW will deliver water to support the feeding, breeding and movement needs of these native fish species when more water is available in the Darling River.

“Obviously, this has had a devastating impact on the local fish stock here and something I wanted to see first-hand,” Mr Blair said in Menindee yesterday.

“It certainly puts the other ones we’ve seen into perspective when we see the size, but also the types of species that we’ve lost out here.

“It’s distressing, no doubt.

“We just haven’t had the inflows coming back into the system and replenishing the system.”

“We’ve been releasing water out of Menindee and down the Darling, but unfortunately we have some water quality issues that have led to this fish kill, particularly low oxygen levels.

“The average for the system here in NSW should be seeing 4,000 gigalitres coming down the system in a good year.”

“In the last six months we’ve had around 30 gigalitres, so that just shows we don’t have the natural flows at the moment.

“This is only something that can be fixed by proper rainfall coming into the Northern part of the system and getting the lakes and the rivers flowing again.”

He said he would be guided by the experts on issues such as restocking and water releases.

“But I wanted that briefing here today, I wanted it from our experts on the water, and that’s what we’ve done.”

NSW Fisheries manager Iain Ellis, based in Buronga, said the latest fish kill had ceased, carcasses had sunk and birds had carried some away.

“It doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as what it did two days ago,” Mr Ellis said.

“But we know we lost hundreds of thousands of native fish.”

“What was unique was seeing within the space of a month two fish kills in the same stretch of water and the sheer number of fish each time.

“I wouldn’t have expected to see a kill this big just three weeks after the first one.” 

Mr Ellis said the fish kills were due to a disturbance in the Blue Green Algae blooms that have toxified the Menindee Weir Pool.

“In the first case it was a storm event, the second case was the cold front came through and dropped the temperature.”

He said they had learnt from experience that a small release in Menindee can disrupt blooms or stratify water further down and kill fish.

NSW Fisheries will coordinate with NSW Water to help bring back fish populations in Menindee.

“This is the bread basket for Golden Perch,” he said.

“The recruitment factory is these Menindee Lakes, that’s where we know a lot of our Golden Perch throughout the Basin are probably fish born upstream of here.

“They’ve spent their early nursing environment in the Menindee lakes which is super productive and in the bigger floods they find their way into the Murray.

“Now we know that a fish you catch in the Murray might’ve began life upstream up here, and that’s pretty important.”

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