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Independent assessment of fish deaths

An independent panel has been appointed by the Australian Government, to assess fish death events in December 2018 and January 2019.

The independent panel will:

  • assess the water management, events, and conditions leading up to the 2018–19 fish deaths to identify likely causes
  • assess the effectiveness of existing fish management responses to manage fish death risks in the Lower Darling River
  • provide recommendations to the Australian Government Minister responsible for water, the MDBA and Basin governments on strategies to prevent similar events in the future, enhance native fish recovery in the Lower Darling River and inform the Lower Darling under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan Native Fish Management and Recovery Strategy.

A preliminary report and early advice and recommendations will be given to the Australian Government Minister by 20 February 2019.

The final report will be provided by 31 March 2019 to the Minister, Chair of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority and the Murray–Darling Basin Ministers.

Independent Panel

Prof Rob Vertessy (Chair) 

Rob Vertessy has led a distinguished career in water research since graduating with a PhD from the Australian National University in fluvial geomorphology. After leading the Cooperative Research Centre for Catchment Hydrology then CSIRO’s Land and Water Division, he joined the Bureau of Meteorology where he served as the Bureau’s CEO and represented Australia at the World Meteorological Organization.

Professor Vertessy currently conducts research on climate change and water security as an enterprise professor with the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering, and chairs the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering’s water forum.

Environmental intelligence is the focus of Professor Vertessy’s consulting company, which has taken him to Asia on behalf of the Australian Water Partnership and the Commonwealth Government to share Australia’s water reform experience. He chairs a number of state and Commonwealth technical committees concerned with climate and water matters.

Daren Barma

Daren is a hydrologist and a river system modeller with extensive experience in water resource management and in particular the Murray-Darling Basin. He has worked on a large number of technical, policy and planning studies in relation to water resource management across New South Wales and Queensland. Daren was the external reviewer for river system models as part of the CSIRO Murray–Darling Basin Sustainable Yields Project and reviewed the river system models used in development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Daren Barma is the Director of Barma Water Consulting.

Associate Professor Lee Baumgartner

Dr Lee Baumgartner is an Associate Research Professor in Fisheries and River Management at the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Stuart University. He has over 20 years of research expertise on fish passage, fish migration, flow ecology, invasive species, the impact of human disturbance on aquatic ecosystems and, more recently, the effectiveness of native fish stocking.

Dr Baumgartners' work has also focused on developing innovative methods for assessment and applying this information into revised policy and management frameworks; especially the use of ‘complementary measures’ to recover fish populations. Recently, he has been working in the lower Mekong Basin, specifically understanding mechanisms to help fisheries recover from human disturbance and quantifying the value of fish in a food security context.

He presently sits on a range of national and international fisheries advisory boards.

Professor Nick Bond

Nick Bond is the Director of the Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems at La Trobe University, and has more than 20 years experience working on the ecology and hydrology of rivers and streams, with a focus on Australia’s water-stressed regions. His primary research interest is in modelling the effects of flow variability on stream biota and ecosystem processes, and has been involved in environmental flow research and monitoring in Australia, Asia and South America.

Professor Bond holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne, and is an adjunct professor at the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University. He has held leadership roles with several Cooperative Research Centres, helping to establish strong links between research and industry, and translating research to guide water management and policy. He currently sits on a number of scientific advisory panels for state and Commonwealth agencies.

Associate Professor Simon Mitrovic

Associate Professor Simon Mitrovic leads the Freshwater and Estuarine Research Group of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. His focus is applied research on freshwater ecology, harmful algal blooms, environmental flows and plant ecotoxicology. He has worked on the causes and management of freshwater toxic algal blooms in rivers and lakes for over 20 years. 

Associate Professor Mitrovic has experience in working with government departments to solve environmental issues and one of his areas of expertise is river management. He has worked on developing flow regimes to control algal blooms and improve river health. He has also examined toxin production by blue-green algae and some of their ecosystem implications.

Professor Fran Sheldon

Professor Fran Sheldon is a member of the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University. She has more than 25 years of experience in aquatic ecosystem health, arid stream and river ecology, freshwater invertebrate ecology and urban streams.

Professor Sheldon has led and participated in a number of major national research programs, and has a significant record of published academic work. Her research has informed and influenced management practices across aquatic ecosystems within Australia.

Professor Sheldon is currently the Dean of Learning and Teaching at Griffith University.