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Fishing Ban Lifted, But Fish Still Sick
  |  First Published: December 2011



I’m not sure if everyone knows about the story of the elephant in the lounge room. It goes like this – if you ignore the elephant, and carry on like it’s not there, everyone will think all is right. Well that’s the situation with Gladstone fishing at the moment.

Officially, the fishing ban has been lifted and the authorities claim there is no positive link between water quality, diseased fish and health issues. So, for our elected officials, hands are dusted off and it’s back to work. Enter the elephant.

However, affected fish are still turning up while everyone ducks for cover and hides passing blame on everyone else.

It was conveniently blamed on the overflow of Awoonga Dam where hundreds of impoundment barramundi went over the dam wall into the Gladstone estuary systems. However, marine biologist Dr Ben Diggles, says he examined about 100 fish immediately below the dam wall and all were very healthy. The problem appears to be restricted to the saltwater reaches of the river and harbour.

Those who are catching the fish, Gladstone pro-fishers, are still catching affected sea food including mud crabs, prawns, sharks, stingrays and even sea snakes. I have to admire Gladstone pro fishers who have taken a very responsible stance in this issue and are diligently protecting the sea-food eating public. Even after the ban was lifted, Gladstone pros are refusing to sell fish caught in the area.

The head of Gladstone's Fish Market says he's refusing to buy anything caught in near the central Queensland city and anything that does come in is being dumped.

A Fisheries Queensland spokesperson said the boycott seemed unfair because “… not all fish in the Gladstone region are displaying symptoms of ill health." Really! That is little comfort to anyone.

The State Government has appointed an expert panel to investigate the situation but it will be reviewing data provided by Department of Environment and Research Management (DERM) and the Gladstone Ports Corporations (GPC). It will not be conducting any new tests despite repeated calls by Gladstone fishers.

So, where does that leave us now?

There are still calls from many to reinstitute the closure of the harbour. While Fisheries Minister Craig Wallace might believe catches of sick fish were decreasing in numbers, the pros who are pulling the fish in are proving that not to be the case.

Amazingly, the official reports are saying that the harbour is safe to swim in. I have been boating around Gladstone for more years that I can remember, and I would not swim in Gladstone harbour for a million bucks. There is little credibility when an official report contradicts what is bleeding obvious. Gladstone harbour is an industrial port!

While fish are still turning up affected, turtles, dugongs, whales are turning up dead - something is wrong. While ignoring the elephant in the lounge room may work for a little while, sooner or later there is going to one big pile of mess with which someone has to clean up.

So let’s call for our decision makers to instigate a comprehensive, transparent, irrefutable testing regime to find the cause of the problem and fix it.

At the moment, there is only one place to fish and that is the wonderful Gladstone Reefs.

The weather hasn’t been so kind of late so only the bigger boats are heading out. These guys are hitting the wider reefs and bringing in some very solid fish. The common problem with fishing wider and deeper is that you have to compete with sharks to bring your catch to the boat. That makes for some quick reflexes and some fast winding and even that is sometimes not enough.

Some mates went out on a recent charter trip on Capricorn Star to the Saumarez Reef system. It’s a large system of reefs around 300km² with cays at the southwest and northeast ends. The northeast cay has a lighthouse on it.

The reef is located around 180nm northeast directly of Gladstone at the edge of the Coral Sea Shelf, which drops off into the depths of the Cato Trough.

It’s not a trip for the faint hearted or for fishers with delicate constitutions, but there are big fish for rewards.

Finally I would like to wish all a Merry Christmas. I hope Santa realizes how good you have been over the previous year and surprises you with your just rewards. Enjoy your time with your family and friends and have a joyous and safe festive season.

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