NEWS - Gladstone Harbour fishing closure lifted

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Monitoring of diseased fish to continue but seafood industry says situation is far from over

The Queensland Government today lifted the temporary fishing closure centred on Gladstone Harbour. The closure followed locally-caught fish showing signs of illness and reports that some local fishers were unwell after handling these fish.

Fisheries Minister, Craig Wallace said results from water-quality analysis and fish testing confirmed fish in Gladstone area waters were not considered a food safety or human health issue.

"The decision to establish the closure was not made lightly and neither is the decision to lift it," said Wallace.

"Fish sampling conducted by Fisheries Queensland over the past few days is indicating that the number of fish exhibiting lesions or cloudy eyes is decreasing.

"We are lifting the closure following test results, which confirm the cause of the symptoms in the affected fish are red spot disease and a parasite endemic in Queensland.

"These conditions occur occasionally in Queensland and other parts of Australia when fish are stressed.

"The closure was put in place three weeks ago because at the time it was not known what was causing the symptoms exhibited by the sick fish.

"Those concerns have now been addressed, so the closure is being lifted.

"This means that as of this Friday, all commercial, charter and recreational fishing activities are again permitted in the area.

"We have strong scientific data from both water and fish sample testing, and this forms the basis of our decision.

Dr Michael Gardner, president of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, however, told ABC Radio National this morning, the saga was far from over.

"The reputation of Gladstone seafood has been totally shattered and this is not the end of the story," said Dr. Gardner.

"We have a long way to go here in determining what the cause of the fish disease is (that hasn’t been clarified at this point) and in determining how we are going to deal with this economic and ecosystem disaster that’s occurred in the harbour.

Dr Gardner warned anglers fishing this weekend to carefully inspect fish.

"I would want to have a very close look at it, and the question is, ‘how many fish are going to be caught are healthy?’

"I think we had half a ton of barramundi caught the night before last in the Boyne River and it was said about 80 per cent of those, in fact, had evidence of disease. So, we will just have to wait and see what unfolds.

"In general terms, the marine life in the harbour has been decimated in recent months and it’s a question of what’s going to happen over the next few months," he said.

The Acting Chief Health Officer has advised, though, that no clear link has been established between the diseases in fish and infection cases identified in humans.

"Staff from the Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland will work closely with the local fishing industry to provide safe work and hygiene practice advice.

"Seafood available through retail outlets continues to be safe to purchase and eat, and this is backed by stringent national standards for food safety."

Environment Minister, Vicky Darling said water-quality testing and monitoring had also addressed whether water was a factor in fish conditions.

"Water-quality testing for Port Curtis over the past year has shown little change in water quality since dredging projects began," said Darling. "The analysis for the estuaries and the harbour shows natural variation in water quality due to seasons, and particularly the flooding rains early in the year."

Wallace said that although the closure had been lifted, testing would continue on fish samples to assess the extent of the condition in local fish.

"A number of new samples were collected last week, and Fisheries Queensland is working with commercial fishers to collect new samples this week," he said.

Safe Food Production Queensland said it will continue to work to ensure that fish supplied are suitable. All seafood that is supplied for human consumption must meet national standards for suitability and food safety, it said. Product affected with lesions or other visible signs of disease/illness should not be filleted, gutted or otherwise processed. Affected product should be isolated and disposed of and notification provided to SFPQ. For more information, visit www.safefood.qld.gov.au

Fishers and processors will continue to receive advice on any developments that affect their operations, and notification arrangements are in place so that any detections of diseased fish are reported to the authorities by industry, Fisheries Queensland added.

Regulatory arrangements on the supply of seafood cover the potential risks identified in this investigation and particular attention will be given, in this case, to ensuring the fish that are caught are suitable for human consumption.

The recently-announced independent scientific panel is meeting next Thursday for the first time. The panel will be analysing the results of the investigation to ensure all parties can be confident of the processes undertaken.

For further information, contact Fisheries Queensland, phone 13 25 23, or visit www.qld.gov.au/gladstoneharbour



 


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