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White spot threat: is fishing finished in Queensland?

DISASTER LOOMS: Tin Can Bay seafood representative Kev Reibel says all coastal fishing, commercial and recreational, is under threat along the Australian east coast if the Logan River white spot epidemic is not contained.
DISASTER LOOMS: Tin Can Bay seafood representative Kev Reibel says all coastal fishing, commercial and recreational, is under threat along the Australian east coast if the Logan River white spot epidemic is not contained.

THE Logan River white spot epidemic could destroy all mainland fishing in Queensland, including a big slice of the Cooloola Coast seafood and tourism economy, industry leader Kev Reibel has warned.

A Queensland Seafood Industry Association board member and Tin Can Bay trawler operator, Mr Reibel said the threat was credible and immediate.

"To say we are worried would be something of an understatement,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Gympie Times on Sunday.

"We don't know if it can be stopped and we don't know its boundaries within the crustaceans, or even if it has any boundaries. If it affects crabs, that's another industry and another tourism factor wiped out.

He backed claims by industry environmental adviser and Bay net fishing operator Joe McLeod that the apparently unstoppable virus is a threat to the food chains which sustain all kinds of fin fishing.

Mr McLeod said the plankton that kicked off the fin fish food chain included juvenile prawns and other crustaceans.

"If they're not there, there is nothing for the fish to eat,” Mr McLeod said yesterday.

Both said there was a fearful lack of knowledge of the virus' boundaries, especially with the crustacean group.

"If it affects crabs, that is another seafood and tourism industry,” Mr McLeod said.

Mr Reibel said this would have flow-on effects on all the accommodation, fuel and equipment supply businesses that keep Queensland coastal economies afloat.

"Everything,” he said. "Everything will be hit hard if this is not stopped.”

The problem, he claims, is that governments and their advisers have put free trade ahead of biosecurity.

"Within a week of this being found in the Logan River, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia banned import of raw prawns from Queensland.

"But no-one was concerned about them being imported into Australia as bait prawns, from countries where they knew there were diseases.”

Raw prawn imports were undoubtedly the cause of the problem, now looming as a potential catastrophe for industry and environment, he said.

"They've banned imports now and ships with raw prawns on board can't unload.

"But we've been warning the federal government since the early 1990s that it was dangerous to allow the import of green prawns.

"No-one took any notice of us.”

"A week after they banned netting in the Logan River, they warned the industry that nets used there should be washed before being re-used. Well, that's too late.

"Recreational fishing people using bait nets to catch prawns and then fishing somewhere else could inadvertently spread the disease..

"What if I throw a line into the Logan River and bring home a fish that's had a big feed of prawns?

"If I clean and gut it here, I could introduce the disease to Tin Can Bay.

"I just don't know where we're going to go,” he said.

"I feel sorry for the prawn farmers in the Logan River but no-one's given a thought to the commercial netters who have now been banned from there, possibly losing their houses too.

"It's the same with farmers. We've seen disease dangers from imports of pineapples and bananas.”

Commenting on the upcoming Senate inquiry into biosecurity procedures, Mr Reibel said politicians also needed to look at their own trade policies.

Inquiry

The Courier-Mail has reported that the inquiry will look at how the disease got here, any failures in biosecurity practices, its impact on industry and how to prevent future incursions.

It may also be broadened to look at biosecurity issues generally affecting the seafood industry.

$25 million in the Logan River alone - and worse to come

PRAWNS worth more than $25 million have been destroyed since November in the Logan River.

But Mr Reibel says neither federal assistant Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston nor Queensland Fiseries Minister Bill Byrne have expressed any concern for commercial fishers in and near the Lopgan River who have been ordered to stop their normal operations.

Topics:  cooloola coast logan river seafood industry tin can bay tourism white spot disease

Gympie Times