Rotting river killing local fishing industry after flood
THOUSANDS of fish, millions of prawns and countless oysters and now rotting in and along the banks of the Richmond River following a massive fish kill over the weekend.
The kill is expected to hit hard an industry still recovering from a fish kill in 2001 that saw the Richmond closed to commercial fishing for seven months.
The latest kill is caused by rotting vegetation swept into the river by the recent flooding of the Richmond Valley. Its presence in the river saps the water of oxygen.
Water quality testing being carried out by the Department of Primary Industries this week will also reveal the level of agricultural chemicals in the waters of the Richmond following the floods.
Commercial fisherman and chairman of the Ballina Fisherman's Co-operative, Garry Joblin, said he was '90 per cent sure' the Richmond would be closed to all forms of fishing in the wake of the fish kill.
Mr Joblin said he expected the 12 businesses taking their catch from the river would be 'out of action for the next six months'.
"These fishermen will have to find other jobs. They've still got families to feed and mortgages to pay. But it is hard for us to go and do anything else. Most of us are second and third generation fishermen. This river and the sea are our lives," Mr Joblin said.
Closure of the river would also impact local bait shops and Ballina's tourism industry, which relied heavily on recreational angling, he said.
John Gallagher, a former commercial fisherman who now monitors the habitat of the Richmond River for the Department of Primary Industries, said the volume of recent flood waters was much higher than in 2001.
"This is just a massive flood event," he said.
Recreational fisherman Gary Palmer was shocked by the state of the river.
"It looks like the Lismore tip and it stinks like it to. It absolutely pongs down here at the moment," Mr Palmer said.
Ken Thurlow, chief executive officer of NSW recreational fishing lobby group ECOfishers, said the fish kill over the weekend was 'just the tip of the iceberg', with plenty of deoxygenated water and acid sulphate still draining into the river.
"I've never seen so much rotting vegetation in the water. When the agricultural drains are flushed out into the river it kills everything.
Mr Thurlow said human modification of the Richmond River flood plain made such fish kills all too common.
"We have to decide whether we want an economically viable fishing industry in the Richmond or an agricultural drain."
A meeting of NSW Fisheries, commercial fishers, recreational fishers and oyster lease holders is being held on Wednesday at the Ballina Fisheries office to discuss the state of the river.