River needs one agency, says mayor

The recent fish kill in the Richmond River highlights the need for a single agency to manage the river to prevent similar disasters, says Ballina mayor Phil Silver.

Cr Silver told Ballina Shire Council last week there were a myriad of public and private sector organisations overseeing the river but not one body or group seemed to have the authority and responsibility to make decisions and change management practices.

I believe this is essential if we are to see an improvement in the health of the river, he told councillors.

Cr Silver gained unanimous support for his mayoral minute to approach the state and federal governments to investigate the creation of one body to look after the river in order to minimise the risk of future fish kills.

When this incident last occurred in 2001 the river was closed to fishing and other activities in excess of six months. The closure impacted directly on businesses that base their livelihood on the river such as professional fishers, tour operators, bait shops etc, he said.

This also had a major flow-on effect to the shires economy with many tourism operators reporting a downturn of up to 40 per cent during that period, said Cr Silver.

As a result, other businesses were affected and the shire as a whole suffered.

I am concerned that seven years later we are faced with a similar problem and not much seems to have changed with the management of the Richmond River, Cr Silver said.

But the mayor said problems with fish kills in the Clarence and Tweed Rivers appeared to have been largely resolved due to significant investment in resources and effort.

But that is not happening in the Richmond all these issues seem to fall between the cracks with all these agencies no-one has primary responsibility, he said.

He said the solution was not to remove cane lands but simply change practices.

In the Tweed cane land drains had been made shallower and salt-tolerant fish species which could cope with the flow of the tides had been re-introduced, he said.

They all use chemicals till they tidy up agricultural users its really an uphill battle, she said.

Cr John Felsch said his family had lived on the river for around 150 years and both his parents recounted how there were massive fish kills before the turn of the last century.

So nothing has changed but a heck of a lot of people now live here and where you have people you have pollution and were polluting the environment we have massive amounts of septic tanks and sewerage outlets in the shire so dont just look at cane farming, he said.

Cr Alan Rich said agricultural drains were one of the biggest problems contributing to the fish kill.

Cr Rich said the causes of the kill were well known basically black ooze from acid-sulphate soils which rusts in the area and uses all the oxygen.

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