Joseph Milton


Joe Milton is an evolutionary biologist who, after studying the evolution of plants for ten years at various Scottish universities, made a move into journalism. Since then he has written for the Financial Times, Nature and New Scientist, among others. Joe joined the London Science Media Centre in 2010, where he was Senior Press Officer for Mental Health, before taking up the position of Senior Media Officer at the Australian Science Media Centre in July 2012.


Experts say the Federal Government’s fish kill plan may be too little too late.


fish kill plan_dead fish_fish

We should expect to see more mass fish die-offs this summer. Credit: Malte Mueller




Why This Matters: Without action we’re going to see more fish die-offs.




Last Monday, Federal Water Minister David Littleproud announced the release of the Native Fish Emergency Response Plan 2019-20, just as a new mass die-off was reported in Menindee in New South Wales.


The plan is the Government’s response to last summer’s mass fish die-offs, when footage of millions of dead fish shocked the nation.


It includes $300,000 in emergency funds to help manage fish deaths in the Murray-Darling Basin.




Deeper: What killed a million Darling River fish?




Experts have welcomed the efforts of the government. However, they’re not convinced that the plan goes far enough.


The response is “band-aid” action


“It is good to see that the Federal Government is recognising the increasing risks to native species and ecosystems,” Southern Cross University’s Caroline Sullivan told the Australian Science Media Centre, “but it is disappointing that the amount of money allocated to this is so small that it will be virtually of no relevance to the potential scale of the problem.”


Jamie Pittock from ANU agrees “a fish kill plan is needed”, but described the government’s response as “just short-term, band-aid action”.


Pittock says fish kills are likely to continue because State Governments are failing to implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, breaking their “promises to enable water to spill from river channels and water floodplain wetlands”.




Also: Time for a new approach to the Murray-Darling Basin




Fish populations will continue to decline


Unless that problem is addressed then “fish populations will continue to decline”, he told the Centre.


And Sullivan says taking action once an emergency has been recognised may be too little, too late, because of a “time lag in ecological response”.


“What is really needed is for the Government to take on board the recommendations of the countless river scientists and ecologists who have for years been calling for action to deliver adequate water to river and lake systems, to ensure that long term ecological integrity can be maintained,” says Sullivan.


The Government must recognise that “our ecology is what supports our nation, and all of our economic activities”, says Sullivan, and it should be given higher priority than “the short term gains of maintaining the productive output of irrigated agriculture, much of which is owned and controlled by overseas investors”.


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