Protocol for reporting and investigating fish kills in the Murray-Darling Basin

Protocol for reporting and investigating fish kills in the Murray-Darling Basin

During the prolonged millennium drought from 1997-2010, fish kills were an increasingly common occurrence in the Murray-Darling Basin.  While some jurisdictions had established protocols for dealing with such events, others did not, or the protocols were outdated. To ensure valuable information is obtained to assist in determining possible causes, a rapid and methodological response to fish kills is required. This is essential as fish rapidly decay, and water conditions can quickly change, masking the cause of the kill.


The protocol is a guide to the procedures and information requirements for reporting and investigating fish kills within the Murray-Darling Basin. The protocol provides guidance to:

  • ensure notifications of fish kills are promptly received/forwarded to the relevant agency;
  • assist good communication and coordination between agencies involved in fish kills;
  • identify the information required for collection at fish kill incidents;
  • standardise the methodology for reporting and investigating fish kills; and
  • outline appropriate procedures for the collection of information and samples.

The protocol defines what a fish kill is, outlines common causes of fish kills, provides guidance on which fish kills require field identification; outlines the steps required in a fish kill investigation, and details how to collect and preserve water, sediment and biological samples from a site where a fish kill has occured. The contact details of lead agencies with responsibilities for fish kills within the each jurisdiction are provided.

Implications for native fish

Rapid response to fish kill events is required as fish rapidly decay and water conditions can quickly change, masking the cause of the kill. Documenting the causes of fish kills is important if reoccurrences are to be prevented. Good communication between agencies involved in fish kill investigations (e.g. water, fisheries, environmental protection) if successful investigations are to occur.


MDBC (2004) Protocol for Reporting and Investigating Fish Kills in the Murray-Darling Basin. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

EPA (2004). The Goulbourn Weir Fish Kill in January 2004. EPA Scientific Assessment Report April 2004. EPA, Victoria.

Ellis, I. and Meredith, S. (2004). Guidelines for future release effects on lower Darling River fish deaths. Consultancy report for NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre, Mildura.

Koehn, J.D. (2004). The loss of valuable Murray cod in fish kills: a science and management perspective. Management of Murray cod in the Murray-Darling Basin, Canberra Workshop. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

Whitworth, K.L., Baldwin, D.s. and Kerr, J.L. (2012). Drought, floods and water quality: Drivers of a severe hypoxic blackwater event in a major river system (The Southern Murray-Darling Basin, Australia). Journal of Hydrology, 450-451, 190-198.

Walsh, S., Copeland, C. and Westlake, M. (2004). Major fish kills in the northern rivers of NSW in 2001: Causes, Impacts and Responses. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Fisheries, NSW

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