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Update on the East Coast Toxic Algae Event Tasmania

by Carl Hyland on 23 Dec 2012
CRAY (2) Carl Hyland
The area closed to commercial and recreational rock lobster fishing on Tasmania’s east coast has been increased to include waters from Eddystone Point to Waterhouse Island.

Laboratory test results received today (Fri Dec 21)confirmed that rock lobster sampled north of the closed area on December 15 had now been impacted by toxic alga.

The levels of paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) in some samples are close to four times greater than the 0.8 mg/kg maximum recommended by public health authorities and there is no alternative but to extend the area closed to rock lobster fishing.

In response to the laboratory results, the Acting Director of Public Health has issued a public health warning regarding rock lobster in the area between Eddystone Point and a line of latitude running through the middle of Banks Strait in the north and a line running north from the eastern side of Waterhouse Island in the west.

Consistent with the actions taken on the East Coast, DPIPWE is moving the boundary of the east coast closed area both north and west to reflect the area now covered by the public health warning.

Responsible actions taken by commercial rock lobster fishers and processors have enabled all rock lobster harvested from the area in question since 15 December to be accounted for to the satisfaction of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

This catch has been separated. It will only be sold if the risk of exposure to PST in rock lobster gut can be eliminated.

Recreational fishers who may have harvested fish from the area are strongly advised to heed the advice contained in the public health warning.

If you have set your gear prior to being aware of the closure, remove the gear as soon as practicable and do not to retain any catch. (Note the closure is in response to public health alerts and the closure is a legally enforced closure from the date of the public notice).

DPIPWE will continue to monitor the situation and will undertake further sampling. This will inform future decision making on the situation.

The recreational abalone fishery opened in the affected area (indicated red in the map below) from 14 December 2012.

Recreational Fishing - Frequently Asked Questions:

Can fishers transit areas?
The closure applies to taking rock lobster, not possession of rock lobster. For this closure, recreational fishers can fish in the open part of the fishery and transit back through the closed area to their landing point. For example, fishers can leave St Helens and fish north of Eddystone Point and then return to St Helens.

Do I get a refund for my licence?
No refunds or partial refunds are offered. The fishery opened as usual, and it is unfortunate that part of the fishery is closed for a health alert. All other waters remain open and the closure may only be short term. You may note that revenue from the sale of sea fishing licences supports the Fishwise Fund and provides funds for programs that support recreational fishing activities. Go to the Fishwise Funds Planning and Expenditure web page for a summary of how the funds are used.

Should I purchase a licence this year?
The decision to purchase a licence is your decision. If you do not purchase a licence this year, you can still purchase a licence next year. If you state you have held a licence previously, you may keep your Unique Identifying Code for marking the buoys.

Can I delay my licence purchase?
If the only place you fish is on the East Coast in the current closed area, you may wish to delay the purchase of a licence, until the notification of re-opening occurs. Licences are available for purchase over the internet www.fishing.tas.gov.au/licence and a receipt will be issued. Similarly, you can go into Service Tasmania to purchase a licence when the affected part of the fishery reopens. A reminder that Service Tasmania shops are not open on weekends and during some holiday periods.

Which fish can I eat?
If you have a specific food safety query e.g. I have rock lobster in my freezer which were taken from the closed area before the closure - are they safe to eat? - please phone the Public Health Hotline (details are below) as Wild Fisheries Management Branch, DPIPWE cannot provide detailed advice on health queries.

For up to date information about public health alerts relating to eating wild shellfish, refer to the Director of Public Health's current Public Health warnings or phone the Department of Health and Human Services hotline on 1800 671 738.


From the Helth Department Tasmania:
The closure of the recreational and commercial rock lobster fishery from Marion Bay to Eddystone Point has been extended in the north to the eastern side of Waterhouse Island and up to the middle of Banks Strait. This means the fishery is closed on the east coast from the line at Waterhouse to Marian Bay.

Results received on 21 December 2012 show lobster significantly above the maximum level for Paralytic Shellfish Toxin (PST).

Given the results to date, it appears that rock lobster take much longer to clear the PST from their systems than other shellfish.

The existing closed area is now supplemented as shown in the maps above Testing and Sampling. Another round of sampling across the entire east coast is scheduled for early January.

Background to the Closure - An unprecedented toxic algal event has affected the bivalve shellfish marine farming industry on the east coast of Tasmania. Abalone farms have also been affected. In addition, a number of fisheries have been impacted including the commercial scallop, wild shellfish, abalone, rock lobster and commercial dive fisheries.

The toxic algal species, Alexandrium tamarense, has rarely been recorded in Tasmanian waters and has never been previously linked to seafood species expressing paralytic shellfish toxins (PST) in this State.

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