NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said he wanted to make a point of showing how common fish kills were across the state when he seized on a report of deaths in Lake Hume.
The Nationals MP was 800 kilometres away from Albury near Tamworth when he said on Tuesday morning “we’re just getting reports coming through of a fish kill down at Lake Hume on the NSW-Victoria border”.
Mr Blair’s spokeswoman then told media it involved 1800 fish before revising it to 60.
In the meantime the ABC was reporting it as a “mass fish kill” and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted “another mass fish kill, this time on the Murray River at Lake Hume”.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries issued a statement noting “approximately 60 dead carp were located in the water near Bowna Arm boat ramp” and “initial reports suggested up to 1800 dead fish”.
“A cause of the fish kill has not yet been determined, however there are no algal or dissolved oxygen issues noticeable,” it said.
When The Border Mail visited the Bowna boat ramp area on Tuesday there were no bunched dead fish with visitor Andrew Wilson spotting a stray carp carcass being carried across the water on the wind.
“If it was a case of a lack of oxygen there would be more, there would be dozens of the things,” Mr Wilson said.
Albury mayor Kevin Mack criticised Mr Blair.
“I’m not sure where Niall Blair is getting his information,” Cr Mack said.
“Fish kills on Lake Hume are as rare as houseboats.
“I’ve spoken with the water authorities today and they say the water quality on Lake Hume has never been better.”
Border Mail fishing columnist and angling store owner Russell Mason said Mr Blair was “irresponsible” in his approach “when the facts hadn’t been confirmed”.
Mr Blair said he was “happy” there was no major issue.
“At no time did I mention the words ‘mass fish kill’,” he said, adding media was told “they need to validate the numbers because we didn’t think it was a mass fish kill”.
“This is the one thing that people need to understand, I’m the Water Minister I want people visiting our regional areas, particularly those in drought,” Mr Blair said.
“The worst thing we can have happening is having hysteria and people thinking there’s no fish around.”
Mr Blair said he mentioned Lake Hume at Lake Keepit to show fish kills were not uncommon.
“It was the same reason I was raising Port Macquarie 500 kilometres away, the same reason I was raising the Darling 800 kilometres away and the same reason I was raising Dubbo 400 kilometres away, they’re happening right across the state,” he said.