O’Dowd seeks urgent Federal inquiry into harbour health
Posted on Monday, 19 September 2011
Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd has called for an urgent Federal Government inquiry into the condition of Gladstone Harbour following yesterday’s shock announcement of a temporary fishing closure because of contamination fears.
Mr O’Dowd said he had been seeking an independent review of water quality in the harbour for months in light of the mounting marine animal death toll and concerns expressed to him by commercial fishermen about diseased catches.
“I have heard of crabs and prawns presenting with a variety of lesions and growths. I’ve had fishermen tell me about live Coral Trout being perfectly healthy until they get Gladstone Harbour water pumped into their tanks and then they develop lesions and a strong metallic smell from the gills.
“More recently we have heard of significantly increased turtle deaths as well as blind and dying barramundi, but up until now State authorities including the Gladstone Ports Corporation and Queensland Environment Minister Vicki Darling have been saying the most likely cause is the January floods and the depletion of seagrass beds.
“That excuse always sounded dubious in terms of the extent of localized flooding compared with the huge floods and cyclone affecting many other parts of the State, but now it seems totally wrong in light of news reports that a couple of fishermen have been hospitalized for treatment of serious infections apparently after handling contaminated fish.
“There has been an enormous amount of activity in the harbour recently with increased boating and the dredging program which started in May. This has recently been ramped up to cater for the $50 billion export LNG plants on Curtis Island and expanded coal exports, with the Ports Corporation claiming it was to become the largest dredging operation in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Gladstone has been home to a large number of major industries over many years and it is only natural to expect that a lot of material has been deposited and now dislodged from the harbour bed. We need to know what is in this sediment. we need to know that now, and we need the security of knowing it has been independently tested.
“There is no use allowing one State Government agency to test the activities of another. This is a bit like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse.
“With the timing of the total fishing ban now on the eve of the school holidays when there would normally be many families and tourists out on the water, I am also concerned at how the closure will be policed and whether everyone will be aware that fish should not be caught and handled.
“It’s a disaster for our fishing and tourism industries and the longer any uncertainty remains, the worse it will be.
“The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke had the ultimate say in approving the LNG facilities which is why I now call on him and the Gillard Government to hold an urgent inquiry into the state of Gladstone Harbour.
“I have always supported the LNG industry in principle, but only if effective environmental controls provide adequate protection right from the coal seam gas fields through to our great harbour,” Mr O”Dowd said.