An independent panel will assess the deaths of fish in the lower Darling River in December 2018 and January 2019, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud announced today.
The independent panel will be chaired by University of Melbourne Prof Rob Vertessy, who is also Chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority's independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences (ACEESS). Prof Vertessy will pick other panellists.
Minister Littleproud said the panel would aim to identify causes of the fish deaths and make recommendations within the framework of the historic Murray-Darling Basin Plan and Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.
"The vision we saw of dead fish floating in the river was upsetting for all," Minister Littleproud said.
"I fished in my local river, the Condamine, for much of my life and I'd hate to see that kind of event there, as I hate to see it in the Darling.
"I've written to the PM requesting this assessment and the PM has agreed.
"We always need to be growing and learning, so we can make sure we manage the risk of these events as well as we can in the future.
"So 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.
"The independent panel will obtain advice from relevant New South Wales Department of Fisheries scientists and other experts including in native freshwater fish ecology, water management and water quality."
The independent panel will:
- assess the water management, events, and conditions leading up to the 2018-19 fish deaths to identify likely causes;
- assess the effectiveness of existing fish management responses to manage fish death risks in the lower Darling River; and
- provide recommendations to the Minister, MDBA and Murray-Darling Basin Governments on strategies to prevent similar events in the future, enhance native fish recovery in the lower Darling River and inform the lower Darling under Murray Darling Basin Plan Native Fish Management and Recovery strategy.
The panel will interview State and Federal agency staff and local residents including Aboriginal stakeholders. It will also convene a facilitated workshop involving independent reviewers and a broader group of experts to validate the methods used in, and recommendations from, the independent assessment.
A preliminary report and early advice and recommendations will be given to the Minister by 20 February and the final report to the Minister, Chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority Board and the Murray Darling Basin Ministers by 31 March.
Both the early advice and the final report of the independent panel will be released publicly.