Surprising reason tourism operator hopeful as millions of rotting fish choke town

While many locals are furious at the situation in Menindee, the head of the town's tourism association is trying to be positive.

Millions of rotting fish emitting a nauseating smell have left locals around the western NSW town of Menindee fuming, but tourism operators are trying to remain hopeful.

Menindee Regional Tourist Association president Rob Gregory needs to remain optimistic as the town has been hit with drought, flood, and multiple fish kills over the last five years.

He told Yahoo News Australia the deaths of millions of fish have brought increased attention to the town and this has the potential to make this tourist season busier. “It does create interest in Menindee and that’s a good thing I guess,” he said. “People might see it on the news and say: We might go and have a look at that place.”

Left - The Menindee lakes at sunset. Right - an aerial view of the dead fish in the Darling.
Tourists are normally attracted to Menindee's pristine ecosystems, but millions of fish are now rotting in its waters. Source: Getty

Locals are trying to get on with daily life despite the disruption the rotting fish have brought. Menindee photographer Geoff Looney said the fish are "getting pretty rotten" saying he could smell them 150 metres from the river when he visited the local pub.

Locals adamant fish deaths not 'natural phenomenon'

Last week’s event is the second significant fish kill to impact the region, with another similar occurrence in 2018/2019. An emergency operations centre was established on the weekend to help coordinate the removal and disposal of fish carcasses that are floating in the lower Darling-Baaka River.

While NSW government agencies maintain the hypoxic blackwater event that killed the fish was a “naturally occurring phenomenon” exacerbated by the weather, water experts have suggested it has been worsened by effluent from farms and to a lesser degree the management of water flows.

Left - Millions of dead fish in the Darling River. Right - Menindee local Graeme McCrabb on a boat with dead fish in the background.
Menindee local Graeme McCrabb (right) believes his town has been neglected by authorities. Source: Supplied

Local man Graeme McCrabb is infuriated by this response and rests much of the blame on upstream government water allocation. “When you’ve got 80-year-old people who have never seen a fish kill like this before, it just can’t be justified as a natural event,” he told Yahoo.

Kamillaroi elder Polly Cutmore took to social media to share her disgust and the government’s handling of the situation. “They'll blame every other thing, 'it's the carp, it's the oxygen', when it's only the fault of one exotic species - white fellahs,” she wrote. “This river has been around for thousands of years, floods never used to kill everything.”

The stench of rotting fish could be smelled in the town of Menindee. Source: Getty
The stench of rotting fish could be smelled in the town of Menindee. Source: Getty

Menindee neglected by authorities, according to local man

Many locals are concerned about the safety of drinking water, an issue highlighted at a town meeting on the weekend and filmed by SBS. With the Bureau of Meteorology warning there is a 50 per cent chance of an El Niño in 2023, Mr McCrabb is concerned about the town’s resilience to drought.

Mr McCrabb argues water doesn’t get the focus it deserves in NSW and proper reform won’t be enacted until the more prominent Murray River eventually runs dry. “Because it’s the Darling-Baaka impacted and it’s at the back of far west NSW with limited voters we’ve been neglected. Actually, I’d say abandoned.”

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