THE state government is ramping up its scientists' capabilities to repopulate the state's rivers with native fish in the aftermath of this summer, which is tipped to annihilate populations.
NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall on Wednedsday said: "I'm not going to mince words - the situation we are facing this summer is nothing short of a potential fish Armageddon."
The next month is a critical time for fish populations and with the Bureau of Meteorology not predicting any major rain events, Mr Marshall has secured $10 million to create what he described as a "Noah's Ark" for native fish.
Speaking at Narrandera's Fisheries Centre on Wednesday morning he said: "We're facing a perfect storm, which could result in wide-scale fish kill events this summer that are even more significant than those we saw in Menindee earlier this year."
Of the $10 million, $4.4 million will be spent at Narrandera expanding its operations to help breed fingerlings in the next few years to provide the "millions upon millions" that will be needed to restock rivers.
It is not just the state's iconic Murray cod, trout cod and golden perch that are in the firing line, but smaller fish that play a vital role in the river's food chain.
Unlike the larger species of fish, which can travel hundreds or even a thousand kilometres in search of habitable waters, small fish are often limited to small reaches of 15km.
If those reaches start to dry up NSW could be facing an ecological disaster. Said one expert observer: "No amount of environmental water is going to replace fish that aren't there."
Mr Marshall said recreational fishing clubs would be called on the participate in the restocking program.
"There'll be more severe fish kill events this summer and we know there's not a lot we can do to prevent it, but this new program - the largest in the state's history - will see every effort made to save and protect our native fish species and replenish stocks in our rivers and waterways when conditions improve," he said.
Key measures in the rescue package include:
- An unprecedented breeding program, utilising government and private hatcheries, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the iconic Murray cod and other native species, such as trout cod and golden perch;
- Artificial aeration, oxygenation and chemical treatments to support water quality and fish survival across river systems;
- Extra dedicated fish teams to conduct rescue operations during fish kill events;
- A $4 million expansion of the Department of Primary Industries' flagship Fisheries Hatchery and Research Centre in Narrandera, as well as other facilities, which will house many of the rescued fish; and
- The state's largest restocking program in history of rescued and bred native fish once normal water conditions return.