Committee Wants Tumut River Listed As Endangered
February 23, 2001 Tumut & Adelong Times
The Tumut River hit the national headlines this week when a high level scientific committee recommended the river be listed as endangered. The Fisheries Scientific Committee said the Tumut River, together with the Murrumbidgee (below Burrinjuck Dam) and Murray (downstream of Hume Dam) Rivers should be listed as an endangered ecological community under the Fisheries Management Act.
The Committee blames the poor state of the rivers' eco-systems on the release of cold water from dams, the introduction of exotic fish species, the clearing of riverside vegetation, insecticides and salinisation.
Fears that the proposal would see recreational fishing in the Tumut River banned are premature at this stage, according to NSW Fisheries Director of Conservation, Paul O'Connor.
He noted that there were mechanisms in place to provide flexibility if the Tumut River was indeed declared an endangered ecological community. "If the Tumut River was ultimately listed it would be an offence to harm any fish habitat in that: ecological community," Mr O'Connor said.
"However, there are mechanisms within the Fisheries Management Act which would allow recreational fishing to continue, whilst mitigating some of the impacts. "We would have to look closely at the effect of recreational fishing on particular species and implement appropriate management practices. "I would stress that there is a long way to go before any decision is made - there hasn't even been a recommendation yet. "I don't think people should have undue fears - anything to be done will be done in full consultation with the community."
The Fisheries Scientific Committee is an independent body, which makes recommendations to NSW Fisheries. It is then up to the Minister, Eddie Obeid, to either adopt or reject the recommendation. "Even though it is only a proposal at this stage, NSW Fisheries will now consider the issues involved," Mr O'Connor said. "It will be some months before the process is complete."
The Department of Land and Water Conservation has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks, with conservationists, fishing groups and landowners alike highlighting the adverse impact of high river flows to accommodate irrigators' requirements.
One well-known Tumut fisherman said the DLWC's practice of de-snagging and removing rock rubble from the river to improve the flow were causing untold damage to the fish habitat.
"De-snagging and rock removal is effectively destroying the habitat for various insects which play such an important part in the food chain, for both native animals and fish," the concerned fisherman said.
"The work they're doing is also making the river more accessible to boats, which creates its own problems for the habitat."
"The process of removing large numbers of trees from the river bank has also been detrimental, and not just to fish habitat - I wouldn't like to guess how many platypus have been killed because of the clearing works.
"Of course when they clear trees they then have to rockwall the bank to stop erosion, which in turn only makes the river flow faster. "Something has to be done and declaring the river an endangered ecology community may be the only way of solving the problems.
"If the DLWC's effort to increase flow by altering the river continues, there will be no fish left in the river. That would in turn have a big impact on the tourism industry for Tumut."
The high summer flows aren't only a danger to the fish habitat. "They've changed the height of the river four times in the past week," the fisherman said. "It can be dangerous at times for anyone swimming or fishing in the river - the speed at which they increase the flows can make the river rise very quickly.
Tumut River Landowners Association spokesperson Margaret Owen is just as concerned about the state of the river, although she is more concerned with erosion she has flagged the possibility of a court injunction to stop the high river flows. "It's not a river anymore, it's a channel," Mrs Owen said.
"We're looking at any measures possible to get the river back to normal flows."
A solution to ease the pressure on the Tumut River is available, but at a cost.
The idea of an en-route storage for irrigators - possibly at Narrandera - would essentially negate the need for the large output of the Tumut River in summer to accommodate irrigators' needs. However, it would come at a cost, estimated to be around $60 million and the various government department involved are yet to seriously consider the plan.