Fish kill guts Ballina businesses
By MARY MANN
WHEN Stan Golding got out of bed and looked from the window of his Ballina Quays home early yesterday morning, he couldn't believe his eyes.
About four tonnes of dead fish lined the shores of the canal outside his house, some still gasping for breath as they flapped by the water, near death.
The massive wash-up of dead and dying fish at Ballina Quays happened overnight Ballina Shire Council workers and residents had worked tirelessly the previous day to clear the area of fish only to find the next morning thousands more had surfaced.
"It's like a big, silver mat of fish. It's terrible," Stan said.
"When I went to bed last night at about midnight, I could hear the fish swimming and flapping around in the water still alive, but struggling.
"They've just died overnight."
The kill, which started last weekend, is caused by rotting vegetation swept into the river by recent flooding of the Richmond Valley.
Its presence in the river lowers oxygen levels, killing the fish.
Authorities say the fish washed up at Ballina Quays yesterday may have followed the tide into the canal, where they died and were exposed as the tide went back out.
The fish kill, now thought to be bigger than the one which occurred in Ballina in 2001, has already had a negative impact on bait shops, boat shops, tourism operators, local restaurants and other Ballina businesses.
And the 12 commercial fishermen who work the Richmond River are out of work.
Despite that, commercial and recreational fishers have called for the Department of Primary Industries to close the river, and are expecting it to happen any day now.
But while the department has praised the initiative of the fishers, it is yet to rubber stamp the closure.
Marcus Riches, senior fisheries conservation manager for the DPI, said there was probably still worse to come, as not all of the flood water had yet made it from the floodplains to the river.
"This is getting worse than the fish kill in 2001," he said.
"There was so much deep water on the floodplains which is now entering the river system.
"The good news is there is a salt wedge (section of salt water) making its way up the river towards Burns Point Ferry, but there is still an awful lot of deoxygenated water contaminating the river."
Mr Riches said the DPI had done a sound test in the canal yesterday morning and found there were still 'a tonne of fish in there which would die and get washed up'.
To prevent more fish from making their way into the canal and getting stuck, the DPI was yesterday planning to install a net at the entrance.
Ken Fitzgibbon, owner of Ballina Marineland boat shop, said the massive fish kill had impacted on all local marine businesses.
"It slows everything down," he said. "It's been pretty quiet here."