As of late Wednesday morning the video had been viewed more than 2.4 million times on Facebook, and had been shared by 77,000 users.
Community members and farmers blamed the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, acting at the behest of the state government, for draining the Menindee Lakes twice in four years, leaving fish stuck in stagnant pools.
The immediate trigger for the fish deaths was a cold snap over the weekend which killed much of the algae, depleting the river system of oxygen.
Mr Blair said decisions to release water from the lakes over many years were not the sole responsibility of NSW and the actual problem was a lack of replenishment due to drought.
“The issue is we haven’t had any water coming down the system to replenish those lakes,” he said. “Evaporation does play a large role as well.
“We’ve seen it in other parts of NSW. Unfortunately this is the sort of thing we do see during drought.”
Mr Blair acknowledged he did not meet a group of about 165 people gathered at a boat ramp on Wednesday, but said this was due to security concerns after “threats” were made. He said he spoke with other locals on the banks of the river.
Ms McBride’s father Rob, who is seen in the video holding a dead Murray cod, accused Mr Blair of disrespecting residents and Indigenous elders, many of whom had travelled for hundreds of kilometres to be there on Wednesday.
“He saw the community of Menindee and he drove past it on his boat. This is absolutely politics at its worst,” Mr McBride said.
“This is nothing to do with drought. This is a man-made disaster brought to you by the NSW government, the federal government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.”
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud, who has federal responsibility for the Murray-Darling, has been contacted for comment.
Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority said: “A great many of the water issues in the northern basin can be traced to the ongoing, intense drought.”
Mr Blair said he wanted to ensure future water releases were conducted “strategically”, but it was too soon to promise any specific responses based on his visit.
“There is no silver bullet,” he said.
Dick Arnold, a Menindee resident who appeared alongside Mr McBride in the video, said the mass deaths of native fish was “shameful” and should be broadcast to the world.
“Look at these iconic fish of Australia being treated like this … you’d have to be bloody disgusted with yourself,” he said.
with Peter Hannam
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.