A handful of protesters poured a bucket of dead fish onto the ground outside the Sydney office of NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair this week urging him to change the way the system is run.
Concern over native fish populations have spiked following a series of events that have led to mass fish kills in the Murray-Darling basin, caused by algal blooms, rapid temperature changes and low water flows.
But some residents along the river, like Albert Hartnett, blame mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of the urgency of the situation,” he told NITV.
The Darling River has been reduced to puddles in some parts of north-west New South Wales – and is bone dry in Mr Hartnett’s hometown of Bourke.
“It’s a river system that feeds a lot of communities that live along the Murray-Darling rivers.”
“I think it’s important that we provide a better understanding and awareness of the state of emergency that communities are in out in the western districts.”
Mr Hartnett, a Wangkumarra man who led the rally, was invited behind the police cordon to present a petition to the minister’s office.
“I think he needs to take a long hard look at the situation and give those communities out there a democratic voice,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has left the door open to a royal commission into the management of Australia's largest river system as NSW fisheries staff truck distressed Murray cod south.
Mr McCormack travelled to Menindee in western NSW on Thursday where there have been a number of mass fish death events in recent months.
He blamed the drought - rather than the over-allocation of water to irrigators - but said the government would know more after water scientist Robert Vertessy completes an inquiry into the Murray-Darling basin fish kills.
Professor Vertessy is expected to release his final report on March 31.
"If (a royal commission) is one of the recommendations then certainly the government will examine it closely," Mr McCormack said.
"I don't want to pre-empt anything that that inquiry is going to say or do. We will hear back from him in good time."
In Menindee, NSW fisheries staff have begun capturing stressed Murray cod to truck them to healthier waters hundreds of kilometres downstream.
The push to remove them from a pool south of weir 32 comes ahead of flows from that weir ceasing in order to maintain the town's water supply, the primary industries department said in a statement.
"Relocating fish is not a preferred solution because of the additional pressure it places on already stressed fish," the department acknowledged.
"However fisheries experts from DPI are prepared to do whatever they can to help the state's native fish during these exceptional circumstances."
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who recently travelled to north-west NSW, described the situation as “devastating” for Aboriginal communities along the river.
“Aboriginal Elders are in despair,” he told NITV.
“These are rivers that are central not just to their daily fundamental needs of clean water and living but central to their culture.”
“They can’t take their children down and fish and swim in the rivers. They can’t pass on the stories because there’s no river. There’s stagnant unhealthy ponds of dead fish.”