Sydney Seafood is SAFE!

By Franz Scheurer


Why is it that we behave like sheep and panic whenever we feel there’s the slightest reason? When the Wallis Lake oyster scare hit a few years ago, half the population stopped eating seafood of any kind from anywhere. When the government decided to close Sydney Harbour to commercial fishing a few months ago, again the consumption of seafood dropped dramatically, and, because the news of the closure has remained in the media, the market for fresh seafood has yet to recover. Let me state right now that you can’t currently BUY seafood from Sydney Harbour. Sydney rock oysters don’t come from Sydney Harbour and Balmain bugs don’t come from Balmain.


The closure of Sydney Harbour due to the discovery of increased dioxin levels seems to be, at best, a knee-jerk reaction, or, at worst, something much more sinister. As Grahame Turk, Managing Director of Sydney Fish Market, put it to the NSW Minister for Fisheries: ‘Telling people that there’s poison in fish two weeks before Christmas, the peak period, is like declaring a new tax two weeks before election time.’ However that’s what the people were told. Not surprisingly, Christmas seafood sales were down and, since then, there seems to have been a lot of misinformation and a lot of contradictions in the media.


Why would the NSW Government close Sydney Harbour to the commercial fisherman, but leave it open for recreational fishing? Seems to me that if you go to Sydney Fish Market or a suburban fishmonger and buy seafood, the chance of getting seafood from Sydney Harbour repeatedly is very remote. Prior to the closure, less than half a percent of the total catch auctioned at Sydney Fish Market came from Sydney Harbour, now of course it’s zero percent. However if you’re a recreational fisherman and fish in Sydney Harbour you have a 100% chance of eating dioxin affected seafood. It just doesn’t sound right to me to stop commercial fishing and allow recreational fishing to continue unchecked.


So why did the news of the harbour closure remain in the media for so long? Once the Harbour was closed, the Government delayed offering a compensation package to the effected fishermen, instead procrastinating for months. It was in the fishermen’s interest to keep the dioxin story in front of a very receptive media as long as possible, in order to put pressure on the Government. Furthermore, they were concerned about the level of dioxin in their own blood, after a lifetime of eating Sydney Harbour seafood. The Government refused to test them, but when a TV program sponsored the tests (conducted in Germany) they revealed high levels of dioxin. This news was then countered by the NSW Health Minister saying that there was no evidence to show that high dioxin levels were linked with bad health. If this is the case, why was the Harbour closed in the first place (and here’s the more sinister scenario)? Is it possibly to appease the powerful recreational fishermen’s lobby, creating another recreational haven without being seen to do so at the expense of the professional fishermen’s livelihoods?

By now the Government has put together a compensation package for the fishermen, with a promise that those accepting the package would be the first allowed back into the Harbour if it is ever reopened. Although this promise seems reasonable on the surface, there are fishermen who have not accepted the package and therefore have not relinquished their rights to fish in Sydney Harbour (should it ever be reopened). Seems to me this is another example of the NSW Government not thinking the whole thing through properly (unless they are deliberately playing ‘divide and conquer’ with the fishermen…).


Now another consequence of the Sydney Harbour closure is on the horizon: many of the Sydney Harbour fishermen have simply ‘decamped’ to the Hawkesbury River, which will put a great strain on the resources of that river system.


I suppose there are no easy answers but it would be good to have the contradictions cleared up…


In the meantime there’s only one message: Seafood in Sydney is safe, wherever you buy it. Enjoy!