Around 60 fishing industry and business owners affected by the sick marine life saga in Gladstone, Queensland have lodged an estimated $20 million compensation claim against the State Government and the Gladstone Ports Corporation.
For the past six months, sick fish and dead marine life have been washing up in the waters of Gladstone Harbour.
Neither government agencies nor an independent panel could find the cause of the 'red eye' and 'red lesions' syndromes affecting fish, which also extended to dugongs, turtles and other species.
Fisheries Minister, Craig Wallace dismisses the controversy and claims the local seafood is 'a good product'.
In an interview with the ABC, he said: 'I am sick of people talking down the seafood industry in Gladstone. It is a good product. It is a product which that independent panel has said is safe to consume and safe to sell.'
Fishermen believe dredging in the harbour and development to the Port are to blame. The Gladstone Ports Corporation is dredging the harbour to accommodate the growing Liquefied Natural Gas Industry.
The company says it operates within strict environmental conditions, and is vigilant with water quality monitoring.
Anglers and commercial fishers say the red parasite has decimated the industry, spreading from barramundi and sharks to prawns and other species.
Fisheries Queensland Habitat and Assessment General Manager John Robertson said the third interim report from Biosecurity Queensland had found the vast majority of barramundi tested so far had the previously identified parasitic flatworm.
'It is likely the skin discolouration found on these barramundi was also caused by the parasite, and we are continuing to test for that,' Dr Robertson said during testing. 'A number of other fish species were tested that had mild skin abnormalities, but tests showed this was not due to the parasitic flatworm, or any other bacterial, parasitic or fungal pathogen.
'It’s important to remember that the parasitic flatworm has been seen before in Queensland, including an outbreak in the Hinchinbrook Channel in 2000. The parasitic flatworm is not unexpected given the major flooding events this year, which dumped an extra 300 tonnes of barramundi into Gladstone waterways.'
The fishing companies and businesses are launching the action against the government and in response, Minister Wallace says the Government would be willing to reach an out of court settlement but declines to nominate a figure.
'There are millions on the table here. I can't tell you how much because it’s a matter between the fisherman and the Gladstone Ports Corporation. And certainly now things have been elevated through a legal sense. That's disappointing because I think the only ones who are going to make any money out of this will be the lawyers.' Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) has just released a statement on the Gladstone fishing industry’s compensation claim:
'The Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) has always been keen to provide compensation to commercial fishers as required for the loss of access to fishing grounds caused by the Western Basin Dredging Project.
GPC’s estimate from fisheries data of the total annual gross revenue from the commercial seafood harvest in the Western Basin is around $350,000 to $400,000.
Compensation claims, as indicated in the media, for $20 million for that loss of access are clearly excessive.
This is especially so given the $17.5 million of fisheries enhancement and research funding being spent by GPC to counteract any impact from the Western Basin Dredging Project and to ensure any impact is contained within the Western Basin.
The issue of compensation for disease in fish is one GPC is happy to argue in any court given the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to other environmental causes than impact from the Western Basin Dredging Project.
GPC is committed to continuing the Western Basin Development Project in strict accordance with the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments’ approvals, including the stringent environmental conditions.
GPC are responsible custodians of the harbour, having operated dredging projects in our harbour since the 1960s.
We are committed to developing a 21st Century port with care and respect for our environment, which will secure economic development and jobs for Gladstone over the next thirty years.'