Industry reeling from fish kill

Helping to clean up after the fish kill in Ballina that followed recent flooding was Ballina Shire Council worker Robbie Kilmurray. Photo courtesy of Ballina Shire Council.

A massive fish kill which followed recent flooding is threatening the livelihood of local fishermen and has left the Richmond River foreshore around Ballina awash with rotting piles of fish and a lingering stench of decay throughout the town.

A decision on whether the river should be closed to commercial and recreational fishers is expected soon but already local fishers are reeling from the impact the kill could have on their income.

Many fishermen experienced a similar situation six years ago, when the industry was closed for six months as the Richmond River recovered from the 2001 flood-induced fish kill.

Yesterday (Wednesday), a 30-tonne pile of dead fish collected from around the Ballina Quays area stood ready for disposal by Ballina Shire Council workers and was a visible reminder of the scale of the kill.

All sorts of fish and marine life, including whole schools of mullet, flathead, bream and prawns, mud crabs and eels, died as a result of low oxygen caused by rotting vegetation in the water from the recent widespread flooding.

Too much water came down too quickly it looked okay on Friday after all the rain but by Saturday it was devastating, said long-time Wardell fisherman, John Joblin.

Mr Joblin and other members of the Ballina Fishermens Co-operative met with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) officials and other stakeholders at Ballina on Tuesday, proposing a one-month closure of the river to allow it to restore itself.

Mr Joblins family and 11 other local families which make up the Co-operative rely primarily on the Richmond River for their catches and now face an uncertain few months.

Everything is dead theres school prawns and mud crabs all along the shoreline, even eels and mud dudgeons are dying, which is pretty hard for them to do, Mr Joblin said. We probably would have started fishing the last couple of days for mud crabs and mullet. Whats going to happen now?

A spokesman for the DPI, which is co-ordinating the river clean-up, said the proposal to close the river was being considered and a decision was likely today or tomorrow (Friday).

A Ballina Council officer involved in the clean-up said there were fish everywhere and theyre still floating by.

James Brideson, a natural resources extension officer with Ballina Shire Council, said 15 Council staff were involved non-stop in the big clean-up, which was expected to continue for some time.

Council is conducting two sweeps a day of the township to pick up dead fish, which residents have been asked to collect and place in plastic bags on footpaths.

Residents have also been advised not to place dead fish in their garbage bins, which may not be collected for several days yet.

Mr Brideson said the beach clean-up of debris from the flood was nearly finished but now weve got fish washing up on the beaches, and we need a low tide to collect them.

There were dead fish every five metres along Seven Mile Beach this morning bream to eels to all sorts of things have been washed up its quite depressing to see, he said. Its caused quite an impact on the whole fishing industry, which will have flow-on effects for local tourism.

Given the volume of fish and debris, it looks like well be cleaning this up for the rest of the week; therell be dead floating fish and debris for many days yet. Theres also the problem of the freshwater fish upstream which have been killed they too will be washed down eventually and might take days to get down.

Ballina environmentalist Serge Killingbeck, who father John was a former member of the Ballina Fishermens Co-operative, said the fish kill was a sad sight.

He said localised fish kills had been seen before but the large scale of the current fish kill and the one experienced in 2001 was a phenomenon that had only seen in the past two decades.

Surely its tied to the way development is affecting the river more and more the river is being treated like a drain, he said. Were putting in more marine reserves and parks to protect fish but the river is the artery and its being treated like a stormwater drain.

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