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Hundreds of fish die after river level change

Thursday, 31st January, 2013

The scene on the Darling River by Nelia Gaari Station. The scene on the Darling River by Nelia Gaari Station.

By Emily Roberts

Owners of a property on the Darling River have witnessed the death of thousands of fish after the water level dropped sharply.

Nelia Gaari Station is a sheep and cattle property which has been in the Martin family for over 30 years and is now being run by Greg Martin.

It is located on the west side of the river road half way between Menindee and Wilcannia. It is a two-hour drive from Broken Hill and is a popular spot for fishermen.

"The dead fish were first noticed when people staying at the cottage on the property saw them in the river," Mr Martin said.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of dead and dying perch. There are thousands of small carp swimming near the surface feeding off of the dead perch.

"The sheep, cattle and even goats were getting bogged in the muddy river banks."

Mr Martin said there were also schools of perch sticking their heads out of the water trying to get oxygen.

"We were left with a river that looks and smells like a dirty rotten green fish tank," he said.

"This is our only supply of water which we have to wash our clothes and shower in."

Mr Martin said he believes that this was due to water being let out of the river.

"Two months ago the Darling River, between Menindee and Wilcannia, was at the best it had been for ten years and within two months the river has dropped three metres," he said.

"We're not sure why or where the water is going. Someone needs to be held responsible for letting all our fresh water go. The water is stinking. It's disgusting."

He there weren't any dead fish in the water any more but the problem lasted at least two weeks.

"We're not sure if the fish dropped to the bottom or if birds had eaten them.

"The water's not dropping any more but the water still smells."

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) said they had a report on the "fish kill", about 50km upstream of Lake Wetherell.

"The landholder reported that dead fish were observed around January 6 during a period of very high temperatures in the high 30s and mid 40 degrees," he said.

"In total, hundreds of dead golden perch were seen along a one kilometre stretch of the Darling River. Carp were also observed swimming below the surface but appeared unaffected.

"There were no signs of algae or chemical contamination seen."

The spokesman said the suspected cause was low dissolved oxygen levels and high temperatures but could not say if it was due to too much water being released.

"The late notification resulted in limited ability for DPI staff to investigate the possible cause in this instance.

"An investigation needs to take place as soon as possible - within 24 hours - after fish are observed dead or dying for testing of fish and water quality to give conclusive results.

The spokesman said the department appreciated being advised of the kill, but asked that any dead, dying, or distressed fish sighting be reported immediately to the DPI Fishers Watch Phoneline on 1800 043 536 so they can be investigated.

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