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Early Test Results Show Dioxin Levels Lower In “recreational” Fish Species

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The NSW Government has announced that dioxin levels in pelagic species of fish in Sydney Harbour appear to be well below the elevated levels found in bream and prawns.

A small number of preliminary test samples indicate that species of fish like Yellowtail and Trumpeter Whiting have much lower levels of dioxin.

Early results from tests on a range of species in Port Jackson, east of the Bridge, including Yellowtail, Sand Whiting, Kingfish, Luderick and Trumpeter Whiting have levels below the 6 picograms per gram recommended by our expert panel.

For example, all Trumpeter Whiting caught at Rose Bay was below 4.4 pg/g, while all Yellowtail at Balmoral was below 1.97 pg/g.

These are, however, early samples only – about 10% of the current testing program - but the signs are hopeful.

The dioxin problem in the Harbour comes from sediment in areas like Homebush Bay, a legacy of 100 years of industrial pollution by companies like Union Carbide.

As a result, the dioxin levels are high in travelling “bottom feeders” like Bream, prawns and squid.

For comparison, bream caught at Balmoral in the December round of tests averaged 14.7 pg/g, bream caught at Clifton Gardens averaged 25.5 pg/g.

Bream caught further west, at Homebush Bay (which has been closed to commercial fishing since 1989) had an average reading of 95.6.

These readings are well above the panel recommendation of 6 pg/g – and that’s why the Government closed the Harbour to commercial fishing in January.

It is important to note, however, that one of the species of trevally tested at Chowder Bay in the latest round of tests had a dioxin reading of 9.3 pg/g so there is a need for some caution.

This is great news for recreational fishermen, unfortunately, however, it is the “bottom feeders” that make up the vast bulk of the commercial catch so it can make no difference to the ban on commercial fishing in the Harbour.

The highest result in the latest round of tests to be over the acceptable dioxin level was squid – another “bottom-feeder” and another commercial catch.

Commercial fishers have already been offered a $5 million buyout package for their industry – which had an annual value totalling just $217,000 a year.

Fish caught in Sydney Harbour made up less than 2% of the Sydney Fish Market catch before the full ban was put in place on January 24.

If, in future the Harbour is re-opened to commercial fishing these fishermen will get the first option.

The latest results will be analysed by the expert panel – and more test results are expected in the coming weeks.

The Government will review the dietary advice provided to recreational fishers once the final results are in.

The State Government is currently conducting remediation works to clean up the former Union Carbide site at Homebush Bay.

Sydney Harbour was closed to commercial prawn fishing on December 3 and commercial fishing on January 24 after expert tests revealed high levels of dioxin in bream and prawns.

Areas of the Harbour west of the Bridge including Homebush Bay have been closed to commercial fishing for more than a decade.

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