A mass fish kill in NSW will be examined by a water and climate expert, as part of the federal government’s efforts to understand the ecological disaster.
Water Minister David Littleproud launched the review on Tuesday, with the probe to look at why the fish died and how future deaths can be avoided within the parameters of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“It’s important that we get an understanding of those fish kills,” Mr Littleproud told reporters in Toowoomba.
Professor Rob Vertessy will pick the other members of the panel looking into the mass fish deaths on the Darling River at Menindee in western NSW.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority on Tuesday welcomed the independent assessment and said it will also prepare its own report for the minister containing recommendations.
Authority chief executive Phillip Glyde said more fish deaths are likely before the drought breaks, identifying the areas on high alert as the Lower Darling, Barwon-Darling, Namoi, Lower Murrumbidgee, Mannus Creek and Lake Inverell.
“At these and other sites, on advice from experts, governments are using aerators, releasing water where it is available, relocating fish to other habitats, and closely monitoring water quality including through satellite imagery,” Mr Glyde said in a statement.
On Tuesday evening, the NSW government confirmed there had been a fish kill at Lake Inverell.
Thousands of fish were found washed up on its banks on Monday including Murray cod and freshwater shrimp.
It’s almost 900km away from the Menindee event, with the government still blaming “heatwave conditions” and a lack of significant rainfall to replenish flows.
Over the weekend, the Australian Academy of Science agreed to Labor leader Bill Shorten’s request for a three-week study into the Menindee fish kill, with the findings due before parliament returns.
Mr Shorten welcomed the government’s review but said he had written to the prime minister two weeks ago asking for an independent inquiry.
“They weren’t interested then,” he told reporters in Rockhampton.
“We publicly engaged with the Australian Academy of Science. The government again said they weren’t interested. They finally got the memo.”
He said he was happy for the government to be involved in Labor’s review as the death of fish is “a national issue”.
Prof Vertessy researches climate change and water security at the University of Melbourne and chairs an independent committee which gives advice to the MDBA.
Before his current positions, he headed up the Bureau of Meteorology and held a senior role with CSIRO.
Mr Littleproud said the first round of draft reports were due back by February 20 and final findings will be handed down in March.
“These fish kills were something that was predicated by one of the largest droughts we’ve ever seen in this nation’s history,” the minister said.
“We’re having a fair dinkum independent panel have a good look at this – with proper access to the scientists and river managers who run the system.”