Panel to assess fish deaths

By Country News

An independent panel will assess the deaths of fish in the lower Darling River, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has said.

The independent panel will be chaired by University of Melbourne’s Professor Rob Vertessy, who is also chair of Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences.

Mr Littleproud said the panel would aim to identify causes of the fish deaths and make recommendations within the framework of the historic Murray-Darling Basin Plan and Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

‘‘The vision we saw of dead fish floating in the river was upsetting for all,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

‘‘I fished in my local river, the Condamine, for much of my life and I’d hate to see that kind of event there, as I hate to see it in the Darling.

‘‘I’ve written to the PM requesting this assessment and the PM has agreed.

‘‘So 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.’’

The independent panel will obtain advice from relevant NSW Department of Fisheries scientists and other experts including in native freshwater fish ecology, water management and water quality.

The independent panel will:

■assess the water management, events, and conditions leading up to the 2018-19 fish deaths to identify likely causes;

■assess the effectiveness of existing fish management responses to manage fish death risks in the lower Darling River; and

■provide recommendations to the minister, MDBA and Murray-Darling Basin governments on strategies to prevent similar events in the future, enhance native fish recovery in the lower Darling River and inform the lower Darling under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan Native Fish Management and Recovery Strategy.

A preliminary report and early advice and recommendations will be given to Mr Littleproud by February and the final report will be delivered by March 31.

Both the early advice and the final report of the independent panel will be released publicly.

Prof Vertessy will choose the other panellists.