A 50-YEAR strategy to restore native fish populations across the Murray-Darling Basin is on the chopping block after state government officials decided to wind back its funding next year.
The Age believes the strategy's funding cull came at a recent meeting of basin states officials and follows a $20 million cut by the New South Wales government in its contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority overseeing restoration plans for the river system.
The native fish strategy has been in place for almost 10 years and is one of the most successful and loved river programs. Conservationists, irrigators, and anglers are fuming and are looking at ways to ensure its future.
The strategy aims to restore native fish populations - including iconic species such as the Murray cod and Macquarie perch - to 60 per cent of numbers before European settlement.
In recent years populations have been estimated to be around 10 per cent.
Work under the strategy includes a massive fish ladder project between the Murray mouth and Lake Hume, providing safe passage for fish through 2225 kilometres of river.
Numerous habitat restoration projects, community outreach programs, and key scientific research have also emerged from the strategy, which has had a budget of about $2 to $3 million a year.
Under the next 10-year stage of the strategy it is proposed another 3900 kilometres of safe fish passage be developed. There is also an aim to allow no new incursions of pest fish species, among numerous other targets.
Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh said the NSW budget cuts had triggered a ''hard look'' at what the Murray-Darling Basin Authority did and how much it cost the states.
He said work was underway on a new financial plan to be brought to basin state ministers in October.