Fishy Business


The recent EPA report into contamination levels in fish caught in the lower Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers is confusing, but what is clear is that allowing the Port of Melbourne Corporation to stir up more toxicants from the Yarra River bed would only worsen an already sorry situation.  


Rather than giving us some useful advice about eating fish from the Yarra, the recent EPA study into contamination levels in Yarra and Maribyrnong River fish has left us scratching our heads. 


And boy are there some contaminants, including: PCB’s, (dioxin and dioxin-like substances known to be bio-accumulators and carcinogenic), pesticides and herbicides, DDT, DDD and DDE, Dieldren, Heptachlor epoxide, copper, lead and mercury, tributyltin and PBDE flame retardant; all named in the Port of Melbourne Corporation (PoMC) and Melbourne Water backed study.


So, what have we learned?


EPA considered PCBs to be the only toxicants at significant levels in the fish studied. In terms of PCB ingestion, eating fish from the surveyed area is a health risk, but not a high risk, according to EPA. Eat one serve of the targeted fish: black bream, mullet or mulloway* per week, or one serve of eel per month……but what if we usually eat one serve of the surveyed fish AND other fish/shellfish as well?



Panic? Stop eating other fish/shellfish?  If so, what species should we stop eating?


And: Shouldn’t we find out more about the fishermen who catch these fish? Hundreds of recreational fishermen regularly visit The Warmies near Newport Power station – just one of the survey locations. Do they eat their catch? Shouldn’t we find out more about contamination levels in other popular eating fish as well?


And: A recent study of Sydney Harbour fishermen found evidence of contaminants and toxicants in their bodies, and a complete ban on fishing in Sydney Harbour ensued. The Victorian EPA report relies on a random survey of fish eating habits from a 1995 National Nutrition Survey to frame its advice.…do we care about our local fishermen?

And: EPA’s suggested safe limits for susceptible groups: the elderly, children and pregnant women reinforce that this fish eating is a risky business, especially for our most vulnerable. For example a 4 year old child should only consume 5-9 grams per day of black bream. One teaspoon full!

Black Bream


Meanwhile, the Victorian government Department of Human Services, in its pamphlet ‘Should I eat the Fish I catch? Advice for people who catch fish in the lower Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers’ tells us to eat smaller younger fish, whilst making sure that they are legal size, grill or bake the fish rather than fry it – oh and make sure to remove all fat and skin first - the tasty bits! That’s a hard ask.


Whilst nibbling gingerly on a morsel of fish it is worth pondering that other food on the plate might have elevated PCB levels – a not unlikely scenario given the persistent nature of PCBs. So what are we to do about additive effects from other possibly contaminated food?


So - what have we learned from the latest EPA report?


As far as safe fish and eel eating is concerned – Very little! 


As to whether allowing the PoMC to dredge up millions of tonnes of toxic sediments from the Yarra river bed, which would allow toxicants to re-enter our food chain is worth the risk, on the assumption that we will save a few cents on mainly imported items… ……NO WAY! 


*Mulloway is better known as the popular Butterfish at the Fish and Chip shop

Fish images from Freshwater Fish of Victoria DPI 



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