Opinion: Fish kill exposes marine park mismanagement

OVER the Christmas period a major fish kill occurred at Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast. It is believed the kill took place sometime between the 26th and 28th December 2012 near the mouth of Tallow Creek.

Fishing World writer Dan Bode is a local resident and secretary of the Byron Bay Deep Sea Fishing Club. He documented the following in reference to the kill:

• This fish kill coincided with 24mm of rainfall during a 48 hour event period and some big rains on December 22.

• Thousands of dead fish and crustaceans across most local estuarine species have been recorded.

• We believe the Byron Bay community may have been exposed to a preventable fish kill within Cape Byron Marine Park.

• Under the Byron Shire Councils adopted 2009 Tallow Creek Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan it was determined the Marine Parks Authority would be responsible for the granting of approvals to Byron Shire Council related to Sand Scraping works in accordance with a Sandbar Management Strategy at Tallow Creek.

• If Council monitoring measurements exceeded the adopted 1.8-2.2mAHD (At Height Datum) sand scraping ranges, Council would then be required to seek approval from the Marine Parks Authority to scrape the sandbar at the Southern side of the mouth of Tallow Creek.

• Scraping of the sandbar level at the creek mouth would act as a planned habitat management fuse, breached only at times of natural flooding. It was reported that the 1.8-2.2mAHD fuse level would help mitigate fish kills.

• The fundamental problem with the Tallow Creek sandbar fuse is that the 1.8m-2.2m AHD heights are far too high to prevent fish kills at Tallow Creek. In addition, no methodologies were ever provided to validate the effectiveness of those AHD heights. It is believed among local stakeholders that 1.8m-2.2m would likely start encroaching on residential properties adjoining Tallow Creek if the sandbar actually got to that height when flood event occurred with a closed creek mouth.

• From my understanding, local stakeholders submissions into the Study were dismissed because they suggested AHD heights to match the catchment weir level. Instead Byron Council, NPWS and Cape Byron Marine Park adopted a scraping application level significantly higher than the wier level and deoxegenation through high water levels and subsequent fish kill prior to the natural opening after Xmas rains was the likely result.

• At the neighbouring Belongil Creek system, which is larger and in a much poorer pre-marine park state, council have been conducting regular sand scraping at a 1.1m AHD with excellent success and zero recorded fish kills in over 10 years. Prior to the forced openings at Belongil Creek, substantial fish kills occurred every couple of years in that system. It must also be noted that this Belongil Creek system filters a polluted industrial area and also Cumbumbin Swamp.

• In the period from 2009 to the present, it is uncertain whether any approvals for scraping works at Tallow Creek were applied for by Council, or granted to Council by Cape Byron Marine Park. It is also uncertain whether Cape Byron Marine Park refused Byron Shire Council applications for sand scraping works at Tallow Creek. Because of the Xmas break, there is no information about the way Council monitoring has been conducted since the Tallow Creek Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan was adopted by Council and the Cape Byron Marine Park.

• Locals report no excavation works (forced openings) have been conducted at the site since 2004.

• As of December 30, Management at Cape Byron Marine Park had still not erected any safety signage adjacent to the fish kill site to warn holiday makers and beach goers of possible health, safety and contamination risks.

• As at December 30, Management at Cape Byron Marine Park made no attempts to remove or bury the rotting carcasses at Tallow Creek

• Tallow Creek is zoned Special Purpose. Indigenous cultural harvest is permitted via permit application but all forms of non-indigenous recreational fishing are banned

• This fish kill again demonstrates that Cape Byron Marine Park management are not meeting their KPI’s as laid out in the Operational Plan, 2010. Where the Operational Plan recognises agreements on the Tallow Creek floodplain that were adopted as a measure to mitigate flooding and black water events, our community was exposed to a potentially needless fish kill. In the days following the fish kill, Cape Byron Marine Park Authority Management made no attempts to erect safety signage or warn visiting Xmas tourists and the general public about possible contamination risks at the site even though they had full knowledge of the incident by December 29. Management simply left the carcasses to rot in 27 degree heat on the shores of Tallow Creek and made no attempts to collect or bury the carcasses to mitigate the risk to public health and safety. Our town experienced a public health and contamination threat in the days between Xmas and New Years and the office of Cape Byron Marine Park took no immediate measures to address this threat that laid squarely in their jurisdiction.

• Where the Operational Plan and Marine Parks Act, portray the Authority as the functional stewards of estuarine habitat rehabilitation and the providers of public opportunity, the people of Byron Bay have endured a very different organisation. An organisation that simply banned mainstream fishing access in the Tallow Creek catchment and then left this estuarine system with no alternative but to create its own black water time bomb and subsequent threat to public health.

• The Cape Byron Marine Park are the legislated managers and caretakers of our local Marine Estate and they locked anglers out under the guise that they would rehabilitate these estuarine systems. You will no doubt agree that any fish kill in a NSW Marine Park in 2012 is socially and environmentally unacceptable at a time when controlled openings have been proven to both protect and enhance habitats within the Cape Byron Marine Park.

• Cape Byron Marine Park, permanently locked non-indigenous fishermen out of Tallow Creek and have done absolutely nothing to remediate the environment they claim to effectively manage.

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