More than 40 dead sawfish on Gina Rinehart’s cattle station fuels concern about water plan

More than 40 dead sawfish on Gina Rinehart’s cattle station fuels concern about water plan  Researchers say a perfect storm of factors caused the death of more than 40 critically endangered sawfish on a WA cattle station owned by businesswoman Gina Rinehart    The fish died in a parched creek on Mrs Rinehart’s Liveringa Station in December, but the fish kill has only just been revealed, with a full report expected to be tabled next week  Associate Professor, David Morgan, from Murdoch University led a rescue mission to try to save the fish, but when the team reached the isolated floodplain in Western Australia’s Kimberley region only two of the fish were still alive  He said the fish kill was the biggest he had seen in 18 years of monitoring and tagging the fish in the Fitzroy River system, which is regarded as the world’s last stronghold for the species    He believed the fish had died due to a combination of stifling heat and a severe lack of rainfall during the Kimberley’s very poor wet season  “The water temperature [37–40 degrees Celsius] was above what they can survive in,” he said  He said, with the low water levels, the sawfish were also more vulnerable to predators such as freshwater crocodiles  Floods in 2017, he said, led to a boost in the sawfish population and might also explain why the creatures had spread out onto the floodplain   ‘Gina’s water rescue’ The fish kill comes amid reports that Mrs Rinehart’s company, Hancock Agriculture, is angling to tap into the Fitzroy to grow fodder crops for a bigger cattle herd  Mrs Rinehart bought a 50 per cent stake in Liveringa and Nerrima Stations in 2014 and the following year purchased Fossil Downs, north-east of Fitzroy Crossing  According to a recent media report, the billionaire wants to harvest 325 gigalitres of surface water when the river is in flood to “supercharge” the region’s cattle industry  The project would create “105 direct jobs” and allow “20,000 more cattle” to be run year round on Hancock’s stations, the article said  Hancock Prospecting would not comment on the sawfish deaths, or the water proposal, despite posting the article on its website under the title ‘Gina’s Water Rescue’   ‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity The proposal has been discussed between Hancock and WA Government agencies  The Pastoralists and Graziers Association’s Tony Seabrook is right behind the idea  “A staggering amount of water comes down those rivers in a normal wet season,” Mr Seabrook said  “Their [Hancock’s] proposal is to build an off-take tank to one side of the river to take water only during the years when it can be taken in such a way that won’t affect the rivers downstream and then to use that to irrigate  “This is something that is a once-in-a-lifetime. A CSIRO report published last year calculated the Fitzroy’s mean discharge into the ocean at about 6,600 gigalitres a year  The paper estimated that harvesting surface water could potentially support 160,000 hectares of irrigated crops in 85 per cent of years   Water ‘not being wasted’ But the proposal has come as a surprise to native title holders along the river who have been negotiating with the WA Government and major players in the cattle industry over a promised national park for the area  Chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, Anne Poelina, said from the traditional owners’ point of view the water from the Fitzroy was not being wasted  “One of the things we are concerned about is the cumulative impacts of development  “We’re very concerned that there are gaps in the science.”  WA’s Water Minister, Dave Kelly, said there had been no formal application for a water licence from Hancock Agriculture  “We have committed to a national park in the Fitzroy and part of that is a water allocation plan, which will bring together the hopes and aspirations of all the stakeholders in the Fitzroy,” Mr Kelly said  “Once that is in place, then water licences can be considered.”Sawfish facing extinction The environment group, Environs Kimberley, said the recent sawfish kill showed that the critically endangered animal was already under extreme stress and any further extraction of water from the Fitzroy would have grave consequences for the species  The group warned of a “Murray Darling-type disaster” if the WA Government agreed to Mrs Rinehart’s proposal  Associate Professor Morgan said he could not comment on the plan until he had seen the detail of what was being proposed    He is currently working with Liveringa Station on a plan to prevent another sawfish emergency  “What we need to do is be pro-active, each year, maybe in early spring, to determine if and how many sawfish are stuck in these pools … are they likely to dry up?” he said  “And get in early and not wait until December when it’s too late. He said climate change was the biggest threat to the survival of the species in the long term

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