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Byron Shire
May 18, 2024

Fish kills likely after floods: DPI

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Receding flood waters and coming warm days are likely to have a significant impact on the health of the north coast rivers following the recent floods.

‘Floods in summer can have a significant impact on dissolved oxygen levels in rivers,’ said Department of Primary Industries (DPI) senior fisheries conservation manager, Marcus Riches.

‘When floods cover floodplain vegetation for several days, it starts to die and rot, and this process strips oxygen from the surrounding water.

‘This “dead” or “black” water then flows back into the river via the floodplain drainage network.

‘Higher water temperatures also exacerbate the situation, speeding up decomposition processes.

‘Other factors that contribute to the deoxygenation of river water during summer floods include heavy sediment load in the river, decaying in-stream organic matter, mobilisation of drain mud and chemical processes associated with the drainage of acid sulphate soils.

‘Summer floods and low oxygen levels were a major factor in fish kills on the Richmond and Clarence rivers in the summers of 2001 and 2008.’

Mr Riches said DPI is receiving reports from councils on the Richmond River that dissolved oxygen levels are starting to fall and water temperatures are increasing.

‘This is concerning as water covering major coastal floodplains has yet to fully drain into the main river systems and warm, shallow floodwaters low in oxygen are yet to drain back into the river,’ he said.

‘We are expecting the trend of decreasing oxygen levels will continue over the coming days, resulting in fish gasping at the surface, or fish deaths.

‘The extent and scale of fish deaths is very difficult to determine as fish can sometimes move ahead of this poor water, while at other times they are not able to get away and this can result in significant fish kills.

‘Councils and the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority have been undertaking rehabilitation works on north coast floodplains to try to reduce the scale of these events over the past decade.

‘However, the size of our floodplains means that there is still more work to be done to further reduce the risk of large fish kills after flood events in these rivers.’

DPI requests the public to immediately report any fish kills, or fish seen gasping at the surface, to the Fishers Watch Phoneline on 1800 043 536, or contact their local Fisheries office.

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  1. Re Fish Kills Likely After Floods END 4/2

    A Management Plan for the Evans River Estuary is currently on public exhibition with a closing date of February 11: http://www.richmondvalley.nsw.gov.au/page/Home/News_Articles/Council_seeks_feedback_on_coastal_zone_management_plan/

    The terms of reference for the plan were determined by State and local government bureaucrats including the Fisheries Conservation Manager (North) of the Department of Primary Industry. The public was shut out of the terms of reference process. What would the public know anyway!

    The lengthy plan for the Evans specifically precludes any change to the current political arrangement which allows large amounts of polluted Richmond River water to flow into the Evans River along with contaminated agricultural runoffs despite the fact that the same plan identifies these culprits as a major source of the River’s problems.

    The Evans River is suffocating as a result of the thousands of tonnes of silt coming from the Richmond.

    There is a simple solution to fish kills in the Evans: Fill in the Tuckombil Canal at Woodburn. Revegetate the flood plain. And leave the Evans River Estuary to recover which it will certainly do once the pressure from the polluted water from the Richmond is stopped.

    Why has the DPI failed to look after the interests of the Evans River and all the environmental and economic benefits which flow from a healthy river system?

    Time to develop some backbone, revisit the now out-of-date plan for the Richmond River and stop the unnecessary and unwarranted destruction of our River.

    No need to phone the fish hotline to report dying fish. Stop playing political football with the Evans, the lifeblood of our economy. Fix the bloody problem then there’ll be no need to phone anyone.

    Dr Richard Gates
    Evans Head


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