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Hundreds Of Fish To Be Transported Via 'Noah's Ark' To Avoid Another Mass Kill

The NSW government will start relocating hundreds of stranded fish from the Darling River, as authorities warn of an "Armageddon" of both fish deaths and fire this summer. 

The two-week operation will see scientists from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) rescue native fish species -- including Murray Cod and Golden Perch -- from drying pools  at Menindee that are not expected to last through the summer.

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall announced the "unprecedented" action last month, as he warned a combination of heat, drought, and river flow issues was creating a perfect storm for another season of fish kills in the area.

"We're staring down the barrel of a potential fish Armaggedon, which is why we're wasting little time rolling out this unprecedented action," Marshall said on Monday.

Thousands of dead fish in the Menindee weir pool in January. Photo: AAP

Earlier this year, hundreds and thousands of fish -- Murray Cod, bream and perch -- were killed in the Darling River at Menindee. The mass deaths were attributed to the sudden death of large amounts of algae that sucked oxygen from the water -- in turn suffocating the fish, along with other marine animals.

The state government has warned the disaster could repeat itself, with record low rainfall and high temperatures predicted over the coming months, amid the state's "worst drought on record".

"By starting this operation today, we're getting on the front foot while we still have the chance to rescue and relocate as many fish as possible," Marshall said.

READ MORE: 'We Can't Take It Anymore': Farmers Holding Dead Fish Want Answers

From Monday, DPI scientists will begin assessing the area and rescuing as many fish as possible -- most likely in the hundreds -- from up to 20 pools of water that have been deemed at highest risk of drying out.

Using nets, those fish will be transferred into vehicles with tanks in the back fitted with oxygen and temperature control. Marshall said they will then be relocated downstream to a section of the Lower Darling which will offer a more secure habitat.

"We providing the best possible chance of survival," Marshall said.

The state government is warning of more fish deaths amid the worst drought on record. Photo: AAP

When river flows return to normal, he said the fish will be able to migrate to their ‘homes’ upstream without the need for additional intervention

The relocation is part of the government's $10 million strategy, announced last month, to create a "modern day Noah's ark" that will save the state's native fish.

READ MORE: Mapped Out: 'Fish Armageddon' And 'Horror Summer' Are Coming 

The plan includes an "unprecedented" breeding program, using government and private hatcheries, along with artificial aeration, oxygenation and chemical treatments to manage water quality across river systems.

It will also see the expansion of the DPI's research centre, along with other facilities that will be used to house many of the rescued fish.

Additionally, the federal government is taking steps to implement an ‘Emergency Response Plan’ ahead of the high-risk season. 

Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud on Monday said a range of measures, including an early warning system and “special fish refuges”, would be in place by summer. 

The measures were identified by an Independent panel led by Professor Rob Vertessy after last summer’s mass fish deaths. 

“No-one wants a repeat of last summer’s events and without rain, conditions for native fish are likely to deteriorate and we need to plan for a quick response,” Littleproud said. 

“We also need to think long-term and we need Basin communities to get involved in developing an ongoing strategy to protect native fish.”

Two dead Murray Cod float to the surface on the Darling River below weir 32 near Menindee. Photo: AAP

Expert groups claimed the state government's strategy is a "band aid" fix on a "gaping, self-inflicted wound".

Jack Gough, Nature Conservation Council Policy and Research Coordinator, blamed successive National Party water ministers who have overseen a regime of over-extraction by large corporations, "which has undermined the resilience and health of our mighty inland rivers".

“Since coming to power, they have changed water rules to favour large irrigators, refused to acknowledge and prepare for climate change and they have pulled millions of dollars in funding from the Murray Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy," he said, at the time of the announcement.

"Now they want credit for creating a fish zoo, rather than taking the necessary steps to ensure we have living, functioning river systems."

The state government's announcement came at the same time the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC (BNHCRC) released its season bushfire outlook.

Firefighters are currently battling dozens of dangerous fires in Queensland. Photo: AAP Photos.

The report warned the entire coastline of the state -- and nearly the whole east coast of Australia -- should expect above-average bushfire risk this summer.

That appears to have started early, with firefighters battling dozens of dangerous bushfires across NSW and Queensland just days into spring.

READ MORE: 'This Is An Omen': Fire Chief Warns Queensland As Dozens Of Blazes Still Burn

This year has seen the fifth-driest start to the year on record, and the driest start since 1970 -- meaning there's more potential for devastating fires.

At the time of the report release, Ken Thompson, former deputy commissioner in the NSW Fire and Rescue service, told 10 daily climate change was making fires harder to fight and prevent.

"We can't say definitively that climate change is causing bushfires, but we can say definitively it's making them a lot worse than it used to be. They're more severe, more intense, burning larger areas than before, posing greater threats to property and lives," he said.

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au