Mass Fish Deaths in Australia Spur Emergency River Health Talks

(Bloomberg) -- A series of mass fish deaths in Australia’s major river system that’s caught global attention in the past few weeks has prompted an emergency national meeting to discuss government responses.

The meeting of river operators, fish scientists and water policy officials from the federal government as well the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia on Tuesday will look to identify all at-risk areas, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s Chief Executive Officer Phillip Glyde said on its website.

Drought throughout Australia’s southeast over much of the past two years has devastated farming regions and is now stressing the Murray Darling river system, which runs through the four states and waters crops from cotton to grapes. A heatwave forecast for the next five days may prompt further fish deaths, already in the tens of thousands, as rivers and waterholes dry up.

“The fish deaths in the lower Darling River are a tragic reminder of the impact of severe drought, on an already over-stretched river system,” Glyde said in the statement. “Sadly, fish deaths are common events across Australia, particularly during summer and drought conditions, and we expect more events will happen before the current drought breaks.”

Click here for more on how drought harms Australia’s major river system

Separately, the New South Wales government said it would support river aeration work to minimize the risk of further fish deaths.

“The conditions we’ve seen across NSW are leading to more and more fish kills which are caused by algae-blooms, black water and oxygen depletion,” the state’s Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Water Niall Blair said in a statement. “The impact of this drought has seen kills which are more severe and more devastating.”

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has been accused of mismanaging the river, with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young saying too much water is being taken from the river system by farms. The claims are disputed by the government.

Management of the river basin is a contentious issue in Australia given its economic importance for the four states that rely on it as well as the federal government.

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