Tide turns on Menindee fish outcry with Murray Cod release

Menindee school students help release some of the Murray Cod fingerlings into the Darling (Baaka) River watched by Adam Marshall and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Menindee school students help release some of the Murray Cod fingerlings into the Darling (Baaka) River watched by Adam Marshall and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

It was an issue that caused a national uproar and may have forced the former NSW Ag minister Niall Blair to resign - the death of up to a million fish at Menindee in three events.

But the government went some way to smoothing the waters this week with the release of 60,000 Murray Cod fingerlings into the Darling River.

The new Ag Minister Adam Marshall said the released fingerlings were the offspring of cod rescued in the searing summer of 2019.

Many blamed the mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin and Menindee Lakes for the massive fish deaths that occurred along the lower Darling.

The issue was so hot that Niall Blair received death threats - one of the reasons given for him finally wanting to leave parliament - although he denied government policy had caused the fish deaths.

The NSW Government defended its record, but the issue dogged the government. Mr Blair started a number of fish rescue initiatives that led to this release of fingerlings this week. The Government also put oxygenators in the river to help the native fish survive during the drought.

The Darling stopped running in the drought and algal blooms killed many fish in waterholes because there was no oxygen in the stagnant pools.

Mr Marshall and Premier Gladys Berejiklian were able to rectify some of the political damage from the time and help heal wounds in the Menindee community by donning gumboots this week and releasing the fish alongside Menindee schoolkids and representatives of the Barkindji people.

Adam Marshall helps with the restocking of Murray Cod at Menindee.

Adam Marshall helps with the restocking of Murray Cod at Menindee.

Mr Marshall said the fish were offspring of 70 Murray Cod rescued after the NSW Government last year took unprecedented action to launch the State's largest-ever breeding program.

"Fast-forward to today and our virtual 'Noah's Ark' has docked home, returning a massive 60,000 Murray Cod to their native river, a major milestone in the NSW Government's $10 million Fish Rescue Strategy," Mr Marshall said.

"The iconic Murray Cod is particularly special to both the Menindee region and local indigenous communities, so to stand here today with key community members and First Nations representatives as these fish are returned to country is very moving.

"This is just the start of something special. These 60,000 Murray Cod are only the first of more than 400,000 fish to be stocked across the State this month alone, and we will continue breeding 2.5 million native fish species each year to keep our rivers stocked."

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Mr Marshall said the Murray Cod restocked were the offspring of fish rescued by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Fisheries from Menindee in the sweltering summer of 2019, and more saved the following summer.

"The rescued Murray Cod were taken to the NSW Government's flagship fish hatchery at Narrandera, where they stayed until conditions improved," Mr Marshall said.

"DPI has done a phenomenal job in breeding these offspring. This program ensures the survival of our fish species, no matter how severe future summers might be."

Ms Berejiklian said the return of the Murray Cod to the waterway was part of the NSW Government's ambitious plan to help restock the Darling River.

"This is a historic day for the Menindee community and the Barkindji people in particular," Ms Berejiklian said.

"Two years ago widespread fish deaths were caused by high temperatures and record low rainfall so it gives me great joy to see these Murray Cod returned home and swimming through our healthy waterways."

This story After the mass fish deaths, there's hope again in the water first appeared on The Land.