Mass Sawfish Death

Demand an Investigation into Mass Sawfish Death

Demand Government investigate how 46 endangered sawfish became trapped and died in drying-out pools on the Fitzroy floodplain. Also to explain the decision to withhold the news of the mass death from the media & community!

    Dear Minister Kelly,

    I am deeply concerned about plans for taking water from the National Heritage Listed Fitzroy River for irrigated agriculture.  The sensitive environment of the river cannot handle the reduced water flows and increased pollution that irrigation would cause.  Establishing a new irrigation industry on the Fitzroy River would lead to a Murray-Darling style disaster for communities, endangered wildlife and the National Heritage cultural values of the river.

    My concerns were increased when I learned about the mass death of critically endangered sawfish on Gina Rinehart's Liveringa Station this December.  Sawfish are critically endangered having disappeared from over 70% of their global range, and the Fitzroy River is their last stronghold and crucial for their survival. They are fully protected under a number of Australian and Western Australian laws. 

    Liveringa Station is the only station on the river where water is being taken for irrigation and the sawfish died upstream from this irrigation infrastructure. Scientists involved in the rescue noted that it was not clear why these sawfish has become trapped on the floodplain instead of migrating back to the river as the water receded for the dry season, and yet no investigation has been undertaken to understand why the sawfish were trapped and how this could be avoided in the future.

    I was further shocked to discover that Government decided to withhold news of these deaths from the community, despite officials noting in the FOI documents that exposed the incident that it would be of global interest.  

    I call on you to investigate how these deaths happened and how further plans to modify the Fitzroy River for irrigation would impact on sawfish and other endangered species.

    Sustainable economic development in the Fitzroy is important but it is outdated to think that such development must come at the expense of the environment. A recent report by the University of South Australia showed that substantial economic development and job creation including niche agriculture is possible whilst also protecting the river and that such an approach would create more jobs than irrigation. The river is an outstanding national asset, we can’t afford to get this wrong. I would appreciate you letting me know what your plans are on this matter.

    Yours sincerely,
    [Your name will be automatically added]

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    • Forty-six critically endangered sawfish died last December on Liveringa Pastoral Station near the Fitzroy River.

    • Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show that Government officials chose not to make these deaths known to the public.

    • The Fitzroy River is recognised as the world's last remaining stronghold for freshwater sawfish, which are globally listed as Critically Endangered. Sawfish are also totally protected under both WA State and Federal legislation. The Fitzroy River nursery is likely to be crucial to the long term survival of the species.

    • The sawfish died after becoming trapped in drying out pools on the Blina floodplain on Liveringa Station. Blina floodplain is connected to the Fitzroy River through Snake Creek, a tributary that has been modified for access roads and to allow pumping of between 1 and 2 billion litres of water for irrigation. This is the only water that is currently allowed to be taken from the river.

    • An incident report on the sawfish death event highlights that it is not clear why the sawfish became trapped on the floodplain.

    • An independent investigation is needed to provide transparency on why the sawfish became trapped on the floodplain, on the implications of modifying and extracting water from Snake Creek for sawfish, and on the Government decision not to make these deaths public. 

    • The investigation is more urgent than ever with the current debate on the future of the Fitzroy River.  Liveringa Station owner Gina Rinehart has called for some 300 billion litres of water from the river to be taken for irrigation. This would be 150-300 times more water than is currently taken from the Fitzroy River at Snake Creek.

    • Call on the Water Minister to properly investigate the endangered species deaths.