Water Minister David Littleproud has commissioned an independent scientific report into the fish kill below Menindee Lakes on the Lower Darling River, as NSW Department of Primary Industries announces a fresh mass fish death incident in Lake Inverell.
NSW DPI says thousands of fish, mainly juveniles between 2 centimetres and 10cm long were washed up on the banks of the Lake yesterday, and some larger fish were found upstream in the lake.
Species included golden perch, Murray cod, eel tailed catfish, carp, gudgeon and freshwater shrimp. Initial reports suggest the fish kill was the result of low dissolved oxygen in the Lake.
The study commissioned by Mr Littleproud will comprise a panel to be chaired by University of Melbourne Prof Rob Vertessy, who is also chairman of the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences.
Mr Vertessy will select other members of the panel.
The independent panel will:
- Assess the water management and conditions leading up to the fish deaths to identify likely causes
- Analyse the effectiveness of existing fish management responses
- Make recommendations to the Minister, Murray Darling Basin Authority and Basin state governments on preventative strategies
- Investigate native fish recovery in the lower Darling River
- Interview state and federal agency staff and local residents including Aboriginal stakeholders
- Convene a workshop of independent reviewers and a group of experts to validate the methods used in, and recommendations from, the independent assessment
A preliminary report and early advice and recommendations will be given to the Minister by February 20 and the final report will be issued March 31. The findings will be published.
Minister Littleproud said the panel would aim to identify causes of the fish deaths and make recommendations within the framework of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
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“We’re having a fair dinkum independent panel have a good look at this – with proper access to the scientists and river managers who run the system.
Last week Mr Littleproud accused Opposition leader Bill Shorten of playing politics with the Menindee fish kill.
Mr Shorten requested the Australian Academy of Science to investigate the fish deaths. The Academy agreed to report back to him by February 10.
Mr Littleproud said the Academy’s chief executive Anna-Maria Arabia, a former policy advisor to Mr Shorten, was compromised.
“Mr Shorten needs to clarify what conversations he and his office had with his former employee and their former colleague before the Academy agreed to do as Bill Shorten asked,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Further, the review won’t speak to federal or state government scientists or water managers. How could it produce fully informed results? This is nothing more than a stunt.”
The Academy released a statement after Mr Littleproud’s remarks, arguing the importance of science and public information in policy-making.
“The Academy has agreed to undertake this work because of the importance of science-informed decision making and because the report will be made public. In doing so the advice will be available to all audiences, including the government,” the statement said.
“It is hoped that the scientific evidence base that is produced will inform policy decision by decision makers so that urgent action can be taken to improve the health of the river system.”