Steinhardts Oysters owner Geoff Lawler with evidence of the fish kill near the North Creek Rd business. There are fears worse is to come.
Steinhardts Oysters owner Geoff Lawler with evidence of the fish kill near the North Creek Rd business. There are fears worse is to come.

Concern after hundreds dead in fish kill like never before

GEOFF Lawler has worked on North Creek in Ballina since 1985, and has never seen a fish kill in the waterway before this week.

And there are fears the worst is to come.

Over the past few days, dead fish washed up on the bank near the business Mr Lawler owns, Steinhardt's Oysters, which is sited next to the creek.

It is estimated hundreds of fish of various species were dead.

"This is very concerning," Mr Lawler said.

He said North Creek had been a safe haven for fish during the other two major fish kills that have occurred since 2000.

Those fish kills both led to the closure of the Richmond River to all forms of fishing for months, having a significant negative impact on the Ballina economy.

"In 2001, there was no fish kill in North Creek," he said.

"In 2008, there were some catfish dead in North Creek, but that happened much later than the kill in the main river, so they could have been fish that floated in to the creek."

Mr Lawler points to drains and floodgates in the Ballina Nature Reserve, which extends from North Creek to Ross Ln, as a potential source of monosulfidic black ooze which takes oxygen from the water.

While authorities have denied that is the case, Mr Lawler wants more studies done.

"Why are there levee banks and floodgates in a nature reserve, anyway?" he said of the infrastructure that was built many years ago.

Dead fish washed up on the bank of North Creek in Ballina.
Dead fish washed up on the bank of North Creek in Ballina.

Dr Matt Landos, a local veterinarian who specialises in aquatic species, recently warned for the potential of a fish kill.

He previously said the long, dry spell had led to a build-up of monosulfidic black ooze in agricultural drains within the catchment. The drains were built long ago to empty wetlands to open land to farming.

He warned a significant rainfall event would wash this ooze into the river and creek systems, and lead to a fish kill.

On Sunday, he took his son to North Creek to go crabbing, only to find his prediction had come true.

"Nineteen years on from the first major kill I witnessed on the Richmond as a young fish veterinarian, and still the science on drainage and wetland restoration sits largely gathering dust, waiting for action to apply it to fix our landscape," he said.

"The solution is to pay our farmers to restore drained wetlands to natural hydraulic state wetlands and manage them as such."

Steinhardts Oysters owner Geoff Lawler (right) and Ballina councillor Keith Williams with evidence of the fish kill near the North Creek Rd business.
Steinhardts Oysters owner Geoff Lawler (right) and Ballina councillor Keith Williams with evidence of the fish kill near the North Creek Rd business.

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Primary Industries said DPI Fisheries had investigated fish death events at Rocky Mouth Creek and North Creek, both tributaries of the Richmond River.

"It is estimated that numbers for each event are in the order of hundreds," the spokesperson said.

"Mullet, bream and whiting are the main species impacted.

"The suspected cause of the current events is due to critically low dissolved oxygen levels in water being discharged from coastal floodplains.

"The drought has put the many river systems and creeks under extreme stress, and recent heavy rain in the region over the past weeks has further impacted water quality.

"While widespread rain is a welcome relief, DPI Fisheries holds concerns around the potential short-term impact on fish and other aquatic organisms, particularly as coastal floodplains start to drain into waterways."

DPI Fisheries is working with local councils, other agencies and community members to continue to monitor the situation closely, conducting inspections as needed.

Community members are encouraged to report any fish deaths or observations through the Fishers Watch phone number on 1800 043 536.



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