Infrastructure to stop fish from being sucked out of the Macquarie River by irrigation pumps is set to help improve the overall health of the waterway.

Key points:

  • About 2 million fish are sucked through water pumps each year along the Macquarie River
  • The NSW government has pledged $13.5 million to install fish screens on irrigation pumps
  • The 50 screens will be installed along the river between Dubbo and the Macquarie Marshes

The state government has pledged more than $13 million to fund up to 50 fish exclusion screens for irrigation pumps between Dubbo and the Macquarie Marshes, north of Warren.

Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Western NSW Adam Marshall said the screens will allow water to be drawn by pumps without chewing up fish.

He said it will also lead to cleaner water for landholders.

“This project aims to ensure that those fish are not lost, they stay in the system and they continue breeding.

“One of the side benefits is it actually stops a whole lot of other debris being sucked up out of the rivers into those pumps as well.”

Three men examine a barrel shaped fish screen for an irrigation pump

The member for Dubbo Dugald Saunders and Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Adam Marshall inspect fish screen technology(Supplied)

Fisheries Researcher, Craig Boys, from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) said the screens have been trialled over a number of years to ensure they are suitable.

“It’s really refined over the past 30 years. We know these screens work. We’ve spent the past 10 years testing and tailoring them so that they suit Australian conditions,” Dr Boys said.

He said the DPI was working to identify landholders who could host the screens.

“We want to make sure that 70 per cent of the regulated flows that are diverted from the Macquarie are going through fish-friendly screens.

“To do that we’re going to work with Macquarie River Food and Fibre to identify those willing landholders.”

Matt Hansen

Matt Hansen from Ozfish Unlimited with a Burrendong Yellowbelly(Matt Hansen)

Screens to aid fish recovery after drought

Healthy river advocates say the screens will help to protect fish populations that are still recovering from the last drought.

In 2020, tens of thousands of fish died near Dubbo when much-needed rain washed sediment into the river causing dissolved oxygen levels to drop rapidly.

Matt Hansen from Inland Waterways Oz Fish said it was some of the worst conditions he had seen.

“Fish that have survived the millennial drought and so many harsh conditions, they did roll in the last drought.”

He said the organisation pulled fish from the mud as “insurance populations”, and now their future is more secure.

“We’ve seen the progeny of those fish be released in areas like Warren, and now we’re going to see millions upon millions of fish destined to be left in the river that will grow, that will spawn.

“I think that in the next decade, this river is really going to turn around.”

‘We pulled them from the mud’: How new river infrastructure will secure the future of native fish
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