Hatchery health issues

ALMOST two-and-a-half years after a government-appointed taskforce began investigating fish mutations including two-headed bass at a Boreen Point hatchery, Wednesday’s release of the final report has ruled out a “definitive link” to chemicals as the primary cause.

The inconclusive findings, which failed implicate spray drift from a neighbouring macadamia farm to the mass mortalities at the Sunland Fish Hatchery, came as huge relief to Troy Ziesemer.

Mr Ziesemer and his macadamia production has borne the brunt of suspicion from hatchery owner Gwen Gilson and of Noosa Fish Health Investigation Taskforce member and marine veterinarian Dr Matt Landos.

He told the Noosa News he was waiting on legal advice before commenting. The taskforce report has been delayed for 12 months, for legal reasons connected to a $2 million damage claim and defamation action involving the farm, television program 60Minutes and Sunland.

Agriculture Minister Tim Mulherin said the taskforce looked into allegations that these health issues, and broader problems associated with the Noosa River, were caused by chemical spray drift from an adjoining macadamia farm.

“Overall, the investigation found that there was no definitive link between chemicals and the events that occurred at the hatchery or in the Noosa River.

“While agricultural chemicals may be a contributing factor in some of the events that were investigated, other factors like fish diseases and parasites, water quality, past environmental contaminants and hatchery management practices cannot be ruled out as the primary cause.

“When this process began I warned that it would be long and complicated, and that there may never be definitive findings.”

Mr Mulherin acknowledged the general finding was not unanimous, but said this was “not unexpected given the size and complexity of the investigations that were undertaken”.

As an added measure, the minister commissioned a further analysis of the report findings through independent experts Toxikos, a toxicology consultancy firm based in Melbourne.

“Toxikos found that the report had reached a reasonable set of conclusions and agreed it is not possible to identify a chemical cause for the events at the hatchery.”

Dr Landos claimed the whole review process was legally flawed and that it would not stop him campaigning for stricter chemicals safeguards to protect the Noosa River and its natural fish stocks.

“This review under the (pertinent) Act had to be carried out by a veterinarian –

unfortunately that legal, salient fact has been overlooked,” Dr Landos said.

He said a general toxicologist would not have the expertise to interpret the complex reports and described the overall taskforce findings confusing.

“They continually try to discredit that the possibility that it’s chemicals – but they keep coming back to the same consideration – ‘oh, it actually could be chemicals’.

“It’s open to great confusion – it’s either one (cause) or the other and it is only one.”

“This needs to be resolved and it’s not been resolved to date.”

Dr Landos believes Ms Gilson will not be greatly shocked by the report which will do nothing to stop the mortality rate at the hatchery.

“The animals will keep dying and I will keep serving them up to the minister,” Dr Landos said.

Biosecurity Queensland’s chief biosecurity officer and taskforce chair, Dr Jim Thompson, said Biosecurity Queensland has continued to provide advice to the hatchery and the macadamia business owners as to how their enterprises can co-exist.

“Biosecurity Queensland also continues to investigate incidents of animal health issues at the hatchery as they are reported.”

The report makes 29 biosecurity recommendation for practices at both the hatchery and macadamia farm.

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