By JOHN DOOLEY

PICTURES this week of millions of dead native fish floating on the surface of the Darling River near Menindee has shocked and angered people in our region, and across the nation.

The large number of dying fish, including the prized Murray cod, has been attributed to low oxygen levels in the Darling River, which has been largely caused by a blue-green algae outbreak in the system, hot temperatures and a lack of water flow. 

OzFish Sunraysia president, Braeden Lampard, described the scenes of dead fish as “simply horrific.”

“This is not about blame for how it occurred. It’s about what can we do to stop more fish from dying now, and then addressing the water issue to stop our fisheries from being decimated,” he said.

Mr Lampard and his colleagues have decided to take action, establishing an online Go Fund Me campaign to raise funds to enable a fish preservation project to be put in place to save as many affected fish as possible.

“The idea to set up the local Go Fund Me campaign came from a few people in the Sunraysia OzFish group, including myself, and we set it up with the view to establish some ‘refuge’ areas in the lower Darling to potentially help the affected fish by improving the oxygen levels in the water,” Mr Lampard said.

“There was a media release from NSW Fisheries, and they were saying that there was a drop in the oxygen in the river due to the blue-green algae, and the fish need adequate levels of oxygen to survive. 

“OzFish members are ringing around, consulting experts from around Australia who are assisting with ideas that may be able to improve the water quality – to see if it’s possible and how we can do it.”

OzFish Sunraysia’s plan would see a number of aerators set up through the summer period that would pump water from the Darling River, aerate it, and return the water back into the system.

The intention would be to have the aerators in place for as long as the funding allows.

“Obviously this will cost a significant amount of money, and we are talking to some big companies who have shown interest in contributing to our fund-raising, so we will see where it goes,” Mr Lampard said.

OzFish Founder, CEO and former NSW Fisheries advisor, Craig Copeland, said the tragic event has devastated populations of Murray cod, Golden and Silver Perch and Bony Bream, leaving many of the organisation’s inland members deeply affected.

“Our core business is to look after Australia’s fish, and big fish kills like this are difficult to watch so we will try and do what we can for the fish that are left as these conditions continue,” he said.

“OzFish Unlimited, with the support of their major partner BCF, are raising funds through their ongoing ‘Give Back to Habitat’ campaign to purchase and operate these much needed aerators.”

As of yesterday, one aerator had been purchased by OzFish at a cost of $7500, and is on its way to the region to be deployed in the river.

“Our OzFish community will do whatever they can to help, but Government must find a way to maintain base flows in the future to prevent this from occurring again and diminishing our valuable fisheries,” Mr Copeland said.

“We have watched large female Murray cod perish, a fish that can produce egg counts of up to 90,000, so if we consider the total number of fish lost – it is simply incalculable.”

Donations to the OzFish GoFundMe page can be made by visiting http://bit.ly/SaveTheDarlingFish, or by visiting any BCF store as part of the ‘Give Back to Habitat’ campaign.

Meanwhile, NSW Primary Industries and Regional Water Minister, Niall Blair, has visited Menindee this week to assess the damage, and see first-hand the large number of dead fish polluting the system.

During the visit, Minister Blair called on the Department of Primary Industries and WaterNSW to prepare a report on the fish deaths and subsequent clean-up. He also vowed to restock the system once conditions improve.

His trip, however, was not without some hiccup, with the Minister reportedly receiving death threats prior to his arrival, forcing him to change the location of a scheduled press conference where a number of angry locals awaited him.

Locals, however, still managed to catch up with the Minister, with many going toe-to-toe with him over the issue, voicing their opinions regarding the government’s role in the disaster, and its mismanagement of the system over the past decade.

More fish deaths are expected in the coming weeks with hot temperatures forecast, while a red alert for blue-green algae remains in place for the affected section of the Darling River.