Are fish kills becoming acceptable?

ARE fish kills becoming acceptable ?

This is the question posed by one councillor in response to yet another incident - this time in the upper reaches of Coffs Creek.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) was notified of a fish kill in the section of creek between Roselands Drive and William Sharpe Drive.

They attended the site on March 22 and conducted inspections and sampling with the assistance of Coffs Harbour City Council.

"The EPA observed seven dead eel-tailed catfish and five dead eels," EPA Manager North Coast Region Ben Lewin said.

"The EPA suspects the fish had been dead for at least several days given the state of decomposition of some specimens.

The fish kill occurred in the upper reaches of Coffs Creek between  Roselands Drive and William Sharpe Drive.
The fish kill occurred in the upper reaches of Coffs Creek between Roselands Drive and William Sharpe Drive. Trevor Veale

"Water sampling identified low dissolved oxygen, low pH and elevated manganese. No pesticides were detected in water samples."

Three of the eel-tailed catfish were analysed and no pesticides were identified.

Investigations indicate water quality has been impacted by surrounding urban and horticultural land use.

"The cause of death cannot be confirmed but the low pH, low dissolved oxygen and high levels of manganese are indications that the creek is being impacted by mixed urban and horticultural land uses," Mr Lewin said.

The EPA has confirmed that unless further information comes to hand, no further investigation will be undertaken prompting Coffs Harbour City Councillor Dr Sally Townley to ask: does the EPA consider these fish kills are simply acceptable?

Dr Townley says high levels of manganese are very likely to be an indicator of the fungicide Mancozeb.

"This product is highly toxic to fish and if it is present in our waterways, especially at lethal levels, it's extremely concerning," she said.

"It is a matter of great public importance that we have had repeated fish kills, with various horticultural chemicals present and yet no action is being taken.

"I don't understand why the EPA are not testing for specific agricultural chemicals. Something is causing these fish kills, we need to know why they are occurring."

With the EPA linking the fish kill to impacts from mixed urban and horticultural land uses, Cr Townley says this is further proof of the need for greater regulation of intensive agriculture in the region.

"The EPA has indicated that horticultural land uses are impacting this waterway. As long as there are no required buffer strips between intensive agriculture and waterways, homes and schools, we are going to have chemicals impacting human and environmental health."

Council is currently reconsidering the way it regulates intensive agriculture in the shire and recently placed their Intensive Plant Agriculture Discussion Paper on public exhibition.

The paper outlines the importance of agriculture to the economy of the region while recognising a range of community concerns with the rapid growth of the industry including adverse impacts on waterways, spray drift, excessive water use and illegal clearing of native vegetation.

But some industry representatives, including Rachel Mackenzie from Berries Australia say greater regulation, like the requirement for development applications, isn't necessary and could have unnecessary economic consequences for the region.