Nature conservation groups have criticised the NSW Coalition government’s $10 million plan to remove threatened fish species from the Darling River in the state's south-west, following the disastrous fish kill last summer.
The plan involves relocating thousands of stranded native fish from drought-ravaged Menindee from September 9 in a two-week rescue mission, targeting pools that will not survive the summer.
Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the rescue mission was part of the government’s strategy to create “a modern day’s Noah’s Ark” to protect native fish species. “This summer is going to be nothing short of fish Armageddon,” Marshall said.
The fish will be stunned and scooped up into boats with special climate-controlled containers. They will then be taken to a section of the Lower Darling which fishery experts say will offer better quality habitat and long-term water security for the fish.
But conservation groups have slammed the government’s belated response and want to see radical changes to water policy and river management.
Nature Conservation Council Policy and Research Co-ordinator Jack Gough said: “This announcement is the National Party trying to stick a Band Aid on a gaping, self-inflicted wound. Successive National Party water ministers have overseen a regime of over-extraction by large irrigation corporations, which has undermined the resilience and health of our mighty inland rivers.
“Since coming to power, they have changed water rules to favour large irrigators, refused to acknowledge and prepare for climate change and they have pulled millions of dollars in funding from the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy.
“Now they want credit for creating a fish zoo, rather than taking the necessary steps to ensure we have living, functioning river systems.”
Water activist and chair of the Menindee Tourism Association Graeme McCrabb told the ABC the plan fell short of what was needed. He said $10 million would not cover the natural losses of fish.
“It’s really late in the game; this should have been costed, funded and some real detail sorted out in March/April. If some drastic steps aren't taken this summer, we're going to just smash the strongest cod population in the whole basin.
“It’s a photo-op rather than a real deal. There would be 10,000 cod between Weir 32 [at Menindee] and the Murray.
“And silver perch, listed as a vulnerable species, are difficult to catch with electro fishing. If Lake Wetherill goes, there will be even more fish die than last year.”
Grazier Robert McBride said the community along the 500 kilometre stretch of river south of the Menindee Lakes had been pleading with the government for the fish to be rescued.
“We have been asking for months for the fish to be saved because they are dying slowly in puddles of filthy, de-oxygenated boggy holes,” he said.
“These fish have to be protected for future generations but the government should have been working to save them over the past six months during the cooler weather.”
McBride said golden perch and Murray cod “faced extinction” because the “river systems are collapsing”.