Govt's head in sand over fish kill: MP

Old 1960s style, poorly-regulated farming on the Richmond River floodplain is being blamed for last weeks massive fish kill around Ballina.

Greens Upper House MP Ian Cohen said local stakeholders had called for the rivers closure to fishing for at least a month and said long term changes to land use were required to stop the boom/bust cycle of river health.

Its great to see the NSW Government working on marine parks to assist recovery of marine life on our coasts, but if rivers like the Richmond continue to be treated like an agricultural stormwater drain then massive fish kills are set to continue and the industries that rely on a healthy river will suffer, Mr Cohen said. Converting wetlands into agricultural fields and grazing pastures sets up an ongoing recipe for poisonous black water inundation that cannot be treated in times of flooding. We desperately need an emergency ecosystem rehabilitation plan the government cannot continue to stick its head in wet sand.

Mr Cohen said it was obvious that strategic planning for wetland rehabilitation and long term protection of impacted ecosystems was a priority given that the environment, professional fishermen, recreational anglers and tourism industries would be severely impacted without long-term management.

Local conservationists have been campaigning for years for improvements in land use management after approximately 150 years of extremely high levels of ecosystem modification including clearance, cropping, drainage, artificial floodgates and burning, he said. The pre-European Richmond River floodplain had a very high biomass of standing vegetation that provided what we are increasingly recognising as an essential ecological service that is the remediation, organic buffering and filtration of poor quality floodwaters.

Restoring forested wetlands on the floodplains will not only help clean up floodwaters, but will store and capture carbon and will also lead to long-term stability for the river-based fishing industry.

Mr Cohen said he believed climate change would mean wetter conditions on the North Coast and it would lead to increased pressure on the river system.

He said local fishermen, who were not eligible for financial assistance following the fish kill, might be feeling short-changed.

Its a bitter irony for the professional fishermen that they are classed as harvesters and not primary producers, and therefore are not eligible for low interest loans under the Natural Disaster Relief Scheme, while the primary producers changing the floodplain are, he said.


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