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Question: Coorong Fish Deaths

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development on the topic of mass fish die-offs in the Coorong.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: A seemingly useful link on the PIRSA website guides the public, typically those engaged in commercial or recreational fishing, to report mass fish kills to the 24-hour Fishwatch hotline. Those who do make that report are also encouraged to collect water, fish and organism samples for the department. I am advised by members of the public, fishers and ecologists that there have been two known mass fish kills in the Coorong this year, specifically in the south lagoon of the Coorong, one in April and then one in June just before the King's Birthday long weekend.

The one in June certainly raised concerns amongst both the fishing industry and ecologists, and I quote Ms Faith Coleman, an ecologist, who posted on her LinkedIn, her distress that:

Fish kills can have their own form of strange beauty and productivity…but they can also render one to tears of frustration when they are not a natural part of the system and could have been avoided.

Ms Coleman goes on to post her frustration that, despite an earlier fish kill in the exact same spot less than two months prior, there had been no government interest shown, and that certainly in June site managers were yet to give any formal response to that April fish kill. The June one was described
by Ms Coleman as:

…approximately 20km of Coorong shoreline, [walking along there] in knee-deep freezing, hypersaline water
well into the twilight, documenting a massive fish kill.

Ms Coleman of course sent these things to the department as well as posting them online and
bemoaned the fact that we were documenting that kill in a Ramsar wetland where millions are spent
on researching it:

…two days after the first reports from fishermen regarding the issue, the smell evident to those driving along
the highway…

Driving along the highway from the fish kill the stench was overwhelming for the public along the
highway. She goes on to say:

…[not] having heard anything from the site managers and paid researchers, was heartbreaking.

She noted also that:

…the Coorong monitoring program does not meet the standard practice for a wetland of this type, with not a single monitoring station within the kill zone and not a single profiling buoy anywhere within the system, is beyond frustrating.

Noting that fishermen have also posted similar messages of frustration online—not necessarily on LinkedIn but on other social media platforms—at the lack of response to these two mass fish kill events, my questions to the minister are:

1. On both occasions of mass fish death in the Coorong South Lagoon this year, how long was taken before the reports that were made to Fishwatch saw public servant boots on the ground in the South Lagoon?

2. What information can the minister now provide for concerned South Australians, not least those in the fishing industry, about what has been the cause of these two mass kill events of fish in the Coorong?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for her question. I have some advice that might be of assistance. I am advised that PIRSA began investigating media reports of a fish kill in the Coorong within hours of determining the location and that officers attended the site on 12 June and observed yelloweye, also known as Coorong mullet, scattered over about seven kilometres of shoreline and largely concentrated in the South Lagoon region.

I am advised that PIRSA officers collected water samples for analysis and have not have not detected any harmful or toxic algae from that. Environmental parameters were also measured at the site. That included dissolved oxygen, temperature and salinity, and all were found to be within acceptable ranges. A decline in oxygen levels in the South Lagoon region in the days leading up to the fish kill may have contributed to the event.

I am advised that PIRSA has been working with a number of government and non-government stakeholders on this incident, including commercial fishers. I am further advised that no report of the event was received by the Fishwatch hotline, so we emphasise again that it's vitally important that any fish kill event or concerns are reported to the Fishwatch hotline because that enables investigations to occur.

I am concerned by the claims that the honourable member made that this was reported. If the details of that could be provided perhaps we can see why there is a discrepancy there. The records so far show that there was no official report to the Fishwatch hotline. 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Supplementary: is the minister saying that there were no reports to the Fishwatch hotline in April?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): No, my response there was in regard to the June incident.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Supplementary: the question also asked what happened in April. Will the minister provide an update on what happened in April?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): Yes, I am happy to take that on notice and bring back a response.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Supplementary: does the minister think it's acceptable that it takes at least six days from a report of a mass fish kill for there to be public servant boots on the ground in the Coorong?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): It would depend, of course, when reports are made, the resources that are available and whether other information has already been collected at that time.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Supplementary on the original answer: did the public holiday affect the departmental response time?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I am happy to take that on notice and bring back a response.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Supplementary, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Final supplementary question, the Hon. Ms Lee.

The Hon. T.A. Franks: She has only had one.

The PRESIDENT: Yes, but they are cumulative. The Hon. Ms Lee, I want to move on to the Hon. Mr Hood.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: Can the minister confirm whether she was informed of the fish kill prior to any of the news reports that were publicly available? Was she informed? I just need to understand
the process. Did she know about it?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): If a report had not been made to the Fishwatch hotline, then it's unlikely that PIRSA would have been aware and able to make me aware.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Supplementary.

The Hon. C.M. Scriven: From the original answer?

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: From the original answer.

The Hon. C.M. Scriven: Final, final?

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Franks, I will listen to it. Supplementary question, but then I really want to move on to the Hon. Mr Hood.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Does the minister acknowledge that the department was informed well before the media reports were made public on the June fish kill?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): As I have mentioned, I am happy to take the questions on notice and bring back a response

 

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