Dead fish ‘stink up’ drought-hit re­gion

Bangkok Post - - NATIONAL -

As many as a mil­lion fish are be­lieved to have died along the banks of a river sys­tem in drought-bat­tered eastern Aus­tralia as au­thor­i­ties warned yes­ter­day of more deaths to come. The banks of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Rivers are thick with rot­ten fish, with of­fi­cials putting the num­ber of dead at hun­dreds of thou­sands and say­ing the toll is likely closer to one mil­lion. Fur­ther high tem­per­a­tures fore­cast for this week could make the sit­u­a­tion worse, the New South Wales gov­ern­ment has warned. Low wa­ter con­di­tions and the heat may also have en­cour­aged an al­gae bloom that starves the fish of oxy­gen and pro­duce tox­ins. “We do ex­pect to see more fish kills across parts of the far west and North­ern Table­lands this week,” said state min­is­ter Niall Blair. The deaths have be­come a na­tional is­sue, spark­ing an­gry al­le­ga­tions about the cause and who is re­spon­si­ble. “It’s a dev­as­tat­ing eco­log­i­cal event,” said Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son yes­ter­day, point­ing to apoc­a­lyp­tic scenes. “The sheer visual im­age of this is just ter­ri­bly up­set­ting,” he said. Mr Mor­ri­son’s gov­ern­ment has blamed the fish deaths on drought, and de­fended poli­cies which some lo­cals say has caused the sys­temic de­ple­tion and pol­lu­tion of the river sys­tem. “There’s a drought and this is one of the con­se­quences of drought. There are many, and my fo­cus on drought has not shifted one inch,” Mr Mor­ri­son said. But for years sci­en­tists have been warn­ing of peo­ple ex­tract­ing vast amounts of wa­ter without check for ir­ri­gation or other uses, un­der­cut­ting bil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ment. “Dead fish and dy­ing rivers are not be­cause of the drought, it’s be­cause we are ex­tract­ing too much wa­ter from our river,” said John Wil­liams, an ex­pert in wa­ter eco­nomics at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity. Op­po­si­tion leader Bill Shorten called on the gov­ern­ment to set up an “emer­gency task force” to ad­dress the is­sue. “You can’t ig­nore a mil­lion dead fish, that’s a shock­ing de­vel­op­ment,” said Mr Shorten. Mr Mor­ri­son in­sisted the man­age­ment plan for the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin was bi­par­ti­san, adding that his gov­ern­ment was only fol­low­ing on the poli­cies of those set by the op­po­si­tion La­bor gov­ern­ment.

AFP

Lo­cal farm­ers hold a na­tive Mur­ray cod, which was killed dur­ing a mas­sive fish kill in Menindee on the Dar­ling River.

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