- A single large river pump can kill as many as 12,000 fish a day on the Murray-Darling
- The deaths negatively impact the environment and irrigators, who are forced to deal with the mess
- There are calls for screens that prevent the problem to be installed on all irrigation pumps
A fish exclusion screen acts as a physical barrier to stop fish being sucked into large pipes and macerated.
For the first time in New South Wales, a large screen is being installed on a major pump that feeds 33 farms from the Macquarie River, near Trangie.
NSW Department of Primary Industries research scientist Craig Boys said the installation would save hundreds of fish a day.
"It’s a huge opportunity to support the recovery of native fish in the basin," Dr Boys said.
"They've been under a lot of stress lately through drought, and we've all seen the fish kills, so this is a hugely significant project."
Studies have shown a single large river pump can extract 12,000 fish a day.
For irrigators, dealing with the by-products of dead fish is costly and unpleasant.
"Once the fish get stuck in the pipes you can't get them out," irrigator Jim Winter said.
"This is a win-win for us and the environment."
Keen angler and river advocate Matt Hansen has been campaigning for all major pumps in the basin to be screened.
He has even travelled to the United States, where the screens are mandatory, to research best practice.
He says it doesn't make sense for governments to restock rivers with native fish while allowing them to be extracted.
"Restocking native fish is a band-aid solution," he said.
"It's madness to stock two to three million fish a year while sucking 50 to 100 million out.
An example for all
Trangie farmer Jason McCutcheon hoped the technology would be taken up by irrigation groups across Australia.
"We're going to push to have other irrigators come on board so they can see the benefits," Mr McCutcheon said.
The screen installation at Trangie cost $1 million and was paid for by the NSW Government with money made from the sale of environmental water in 2018.