The Coalition will expedite a review of the level of environmental protection provided for two species of fish affected by recent deaths in the Murray Darling Basin.
The Silver perch and the Murray cod, listed as “critically endangered” and “vulnerable” respectively under national environmental law, are both found in areas hit by the outbreaks of blue-green algae in the Darling River and parts of the Murray.
The widespread fish deaths we have seen this year warrant a re-evaluation of the current status for both species.
Furthermore, the priority given to each species varies across different state and territory jurisdictions, and a consistent listing would allow for a more coordinated conservation effort.
The Silver perch is currently under review by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to align its status across different jurisdictions.
I have requested the Committee expedite the assessment of the Silver perch and provide consistency in the listing of the species across all range states.
Similarly, I have asked the Committee to consider whether there is sufficient new information to support prioritising the Murray Cod for reassessment.
The Government is working to better understand the cause of the fish deaths in the Lower Darling and improve future management of the Basin.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, has already announced a $5 million Native Fish Management and Recovery Strategy to look after native fish. The strategy will incorporate findings from the recent fish deaths and any mitigation actions that are implemented.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office is working collaboratively with state and federal agencies to identify any support that can be provided during these distressing events.
In the case of the Lower Darling, the CEWH does not have the capacity to alleviate the poor water quality and avoid further fish kills with the limited water it holds. Delivery of small volumes of water during poor water quality periods can actually have negative impacts on downstream plants, animals and local communities.
The CEWH is working closely with water managers across the Basin on finding ways to ease the pressure on river systems struggling under the dry conditions.
A preliminary report into the fish deaths by an independent panel, led by Professor Rob Vertessy, is expected to be delivered on February 20. A final report to Minister Littleproud, the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and the Murray-Darling Basin ministers is expected by March 31.