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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Coming clean on fish kill

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Dailan Pugh, Byron Bay

I find it extraordinary that Greens Mayor Richardson considers that I should apologise for trying to put the record straight about killing over 12.4 tonnes of large fish (many tonnes washed out to sea) and innumerable small fish and fingerlings in June 2019 after Council opened the Tallow Creek estuary.

I gave a presentation to Councillors in response to a Council report that did not accurately reflect the causes of the fish kill, or the events leading to it.

My premise was that it was reckless for Council to open Tallow Creek in a dry period, against expert advice and without attempting any mitigation measures, in the full knowledge that it would most likely result in a fish kill.

The basis of my assertion were a series of monitoring reports of Tallow Creek by Australian Wetland Consultancy (AWC).

Following the November 2017 major fish kill in Tallow Creek, AWC advised Council that it was caused by the decanting of oxygenated surface waters when landowners opened the estuary in a dry period, leaving de-oxygenated bottom waters behind which suffocated the fish.

AWC’s April 2018, November 2018 and April 2019 reports advised Council that if it is necessary to undertake an artificial opening of the estuary then they should first assess dissolved oxygen levels to assess the risk of a fish kill. They advised that Council should only open it when a rainfall event is likely to provide inputs of fresh oxygenated waters, and that if they chose to open it at other times then they should install an aerator to reduce the potential fish kill.

Despite being told this three times, Council chose to open the estuary on a clear sunny day without first assessing oxygen levels or installing an aerator.

They also compounded the problem by not following the opening rules, which resulted in a miniscule $1,000 fine.

Councillor Lyon’s praising of Council staff for this is absurd.

A week later there was a major rainfall event that would have naturally opened the estuary.

This is not rocket science, the estuary naturally opens during rainfall events when the inflow of fresh oxygenated waters prevents fish suffocating. If we are going to interfere with natural processes then we need to mimic them.

It is only by fully and honestly acknowledging the causes of the 2019 fish kill that Council and the Greens can learn from their mistakes. Enough of the denials.

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