Simon Whittingham at Gladstone Fish Market with a 600kg catch of diseased fish that he had to reject.
Simon Whittingham at Gladstone Fish Market with a 600kg catch of diseased fish that he had to reject. Chris Chan

Diseased fish rejected

A COMMERCIAL fisherman has caught 660 kilograms of barramundi, only to have the entire catch rejected because of red-spot disease.

The dodgy catch came less than a week after Gladstone Harbour reopened for fishing.

Mark McMillan, caught the fish in his nets in the harbour on Tuesday night.

He brought the catch back to Gladstone Fish Market.

At the fish market, Simon Whittingham was left with no choice but to reject the entire catch, since the fish had red-spot disease.

There were also a handful of sharks and other species, which were also rejected because of a strange discoloured rash.

Mr Whittingham, visibly upset by having to reject the catch, said the catch would have been worth about $4,000 for the commercial fisherman.

He called Safe Food Production Queensland (SFPQ), which sent an officer to inspect the catch.

The SFPQ officer told Mr Whittingham he had made the correct decision in rejecting the fish, and he needed to dispose of them either by incineration or burying them.

Mr Whittingham applied to Council for a permit and yesterday buried the catch at a landfill site.

A spokesperson for SFPQ confirmed that Mr Whittingham's story was consistent with that of the SFPQ officer who inspected the catch.

The catch of 65 barramundi, all of them rejected with red-spot disease, will cast new doubts over suggestions the disease is on the wane in Gladstone Harbour.

A Fisheries Queensland spokesperson said the department's studies still indicate the disease is in decline.

"A number of fishing trips have been conducted by Fisheries Queensland over the past two weeks, and the results have so far indicated a decrease in the number of fish exhibiting lesions associated with red-spot disease."

"Some fish have been found with skin discolouration, which is potentially caused by the parasite already reported, but this is very different to the symptoms of red-spot disease which presents with ulcer-like lesions."

"Fish sampling is continuing to help us confirm that the situation is improving, and fish also continue to be tested to understand the condition."


Safety procedures

The Fisheries Queensland spokesperson said the incident showed food safety procedures were working effectively.

"The report of unsuitable fish being rejected at the Gladstone Fish Market is a good demonstration that Queensland's food safety processes are working effectively," he said.

"Consumers can be confident they are only getting quality seafood in the marketplace."


Out of luck

Mr McMillan, who helped Mr Whittingham dispose of the fish, said he caught them over a 2 and a half hour period.

He said he had resumed fishing on the harbour hoping to continue his living after it was reopened last Friday, but he was crushed to discover he had no income from the trip.

"We've got nothing now because the fish in the harbour are 100% unsaleable," he said.

"I don't know where to head to now. I'll probably make a resumé and start looking for job."

He believes red-spot is not on the decline. "It's definitely getting worse," he said.

"100% (of the fish) were definitely affected, because I went through every last fish and they were definitely all affected."


Safe food

SFPQ said all seafood that is supplied for human consumption must meet national standards for suitability and food safety.

"Our understanding is that Mr Whittingham as an accreditation holder has determined that the seafood is not suitable for market," a spokesperson said.

"Commercial fishing boat licence holders and seafood processors are accredited by SFPQ.

"Part of their accreditation requires commercial fishing boat licence holders and seafood processors have skills and knowledge to assess the suitability of fish for market.

"This system has been in operation since 2009."

"The seafood industry uses a set of parameters such as visual inspection to assess the suitability of seafood for market."

"Fish affected with lesions or other visible signs of disease/illness are not suitable and should not be filleted, gutted or otherwise processed.

"Affected product should be isolated and disposed of so it does not enter the food chain.

"Accreditation holders will continue to receive advice from SFPQ on any developments that affect their operation, and notification arrangements are in place so that any detections of diseased fish are reported to the authorities by industry.

"These arrangements reflect an ongoing level of co-operation between SFPQ and the fishing industry."

"SFPQ continues to monitor this situation (on Gladstone Harbour) and to provide further guidance to our accreditation holders where necessary."

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