THE Gladstone Ports Corporation has attacked a report on fish health in Gladstone Harbour by veterinary scientist Dr Matt Landos, saying it is "in direct conflict with the growing mountain of scientific and circumstantial evidence showing no links between dredging and disease in fish".
GPC chief executive Leo Zussino said the port authority was "committed to ensuring the Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project continues to be conducted within strict conditioning guidelines set by the project approval conditions to ensure minimum impact on the marine life in Gladstone harbour".
"The extensive independent environmental water quality monitoring program for the WBDDP shows no visible or scientific signs of any negative impact from changes in water quality to date," Mr Zussino said.
"Dr Matt Landos' report has been commissioned by the Gladstone Fishing Research Fund, which has been financially supported by a small group of commercial fishers in the Gladstone harbour to support a compensation action represented by Shine Lawyers and Law Essentials.
"However, the first correspondence from Law Essentials noting wide scale fish health issues is dated 20 May 2011, the day the WBDDP began. This clearly shows even by their own records that the fish health issues started well before GPC's dredging project.
"The Water Quality Monitoring Program in the Gladstone harbour is world's best practice. Independent scientists from Vision Environment, University of Technology Sydney and Marine Ecology Group collect water quality samples and analyse the results.
"Their activity is overseen by the Dredge Technical Reference Panel appointed by the Federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
"To date all scientific evidence shows the WBDDP is not responsible for the fish health issues on a number of points."
"If Mr Landos' conclusions are correct, with the dredging project past its halfway point, why are there no recent reports of sick fish in Gladstone harbour?" Mr Zussino said.
"Indeed in June 2012, 2,700 anglers in Australia's largest fishing competition in Gladstone harbour could not find one diseased fish.
"All of the circumstantial evidence from some commercial fishers and from recreational fishers is that the seafood in Gladstone harbour is healthy.
"Several commercial fishers have reported sending significant tonnes of seafood from Gladstone harbour to Southern markets over the past six months."
Mr Zussino highlighted several points, including;
* The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP, formerly the Department of Environment and Resource Management, DERM) has conducted several reviews of water quality data and concluded there were no changes in water quality or fish health issues attributed to dredging in Gladstone.
* The latest EHP report in September stated monitoring of Gladstone Harbour showed that dredging was not a major source of dissolved metal concentrations.
* A Fisheries Queensland investigation into fish health issues concluded in September that "fish health in Gladstone had much improved from 2011," which was at a time when dredging had significantly increased in the Gladstone harbour.
* CSIRO released a report in May 2012 on the results of sampling metal concentrations in the Gladstone harbour.
The team of CSIRO scientists found no evidence of increased dissolved metal concentrations in the areas of Port Curtis that are being dredged and total metal concentrations in the seafloor sediment samples were below ANZECC guideline values for all metals.
By that stage, 4.5 million cubic metres of dredging had occurred.
* Biosecurity Queensland reports have all stated the levels of metals detected in the Gladstone harbour were in a normal range and not considered to affect fish and/or human health.
* Queensland Health could not find any linkage between fish disease and human health concerns, and specifically symptoms identified in the sick fishers.
* Mr Zussino attacked a James Cook University study by Dr Caroline Petus and Dr Michelle Devlin which used satellite maps to document the extent of sediment plumes associated with dredging activity in Gladstone Port's western basin.
He said it "was independently reviewed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science who concluded that JCU's approach had a number of significant limitations and is irrelevant because the dominant natural processes controlling natural variability of suspended sediment concentrations were either omitted or represented incorrectly.
Further, the analysis which was intended to establish correlations between elevated sediments and dredging activities was almost entirely qualitative and did not possess the rigour of a thorough statistical analysis."
* Mr Zussino said that in January 2012, the Gladstone Fish Health Scientific Advisory Panel reviewed all of the available data and reports for fish health and water quality from the Gladstone area and concluded that the data had been appropriately collected and analysed and made several recommendations regarding future water and fish sampling.
"It observed that 'The addition of an estimated 30,000 large barramundi into an already stressed environment (floods) is likely to have caused a general environmental impact affecting barramundi and possibly other species as a result of increased competition for food, and increased harassment by predators.
'The panel noted the reports of disease from mud crabs and prawns concluded the incidence of bacterial infections and parasites observed were not unusual compared to previous studies in Gladstone Harbour and elsewhere'," he said.