The impact of dredging, not Queensland’s summer of floods last year is to blame for a mystery fish disease at central Queensland's Gladstone Harbour, according to an independent scientific report.
Barramundi from Gladstone had displayed red patches
The report by veterinary scientist Dr Matt Landos will bolster a potential $20 million compensation claim against the Queensland government.
More than 60 Gladstone fishermen and businesses want the state government to compensate them for income losses associated with an outbreak of lesions and cloudy eyes among fish and other marine animals in Gladstone Harbour.
They claim increased dredging linked to coal seam gas and liquified natural gas projects are behind the illness.
The then Labor-state government announced last year that an independent scientific panel it appointed to investigate the illness had found no definitive cause but thought record flooding in 2011 may have been partly to blame.
Dr Landos, who has been testing marine animals on behalf of a group local fishermen, has dismissed the panel's findings.
He says the likely cause of the sediment-borne toxicity affecting the marine life is dredging by the government-owned Gladstone Ports Corporation. Dr Landos has studied and sampled more than 500 crabs and dozens of fish in five harbour locations during January and February.He says the closer the dredging is to fish and crab populations, the greater the concentration of suspended sediment and toxins.
'This then coincides with higher prevalence of lesions amongst the marine life,' Dr Landos said in a statement on Monday. 'Our research also noted that the prevalence of shell lesions in mud crabs is markedly increased above historical levels.'
Shine Lawyers partner Rebecca Jancauskas says the report provides the 'strongest' scientific evidence linking dredging to the outbreak. 'It identifies the alarming range of illness and disease festering in Gladstone Harbour. Not only does the report prove freshwater was not the cause of ongoing sickness in the fish, it also addresses the erroneous position that barramundi entering the harbour from Awoonga dam have caused the rashes and lesions on marine life.'
Lawyers hope Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman will heed the report's findings and expedite compensation talks with fishermen. The matter is set to be heard in Rockhampton's Land and Environment Court on April 30.