Mercury testing begins

The Department of Health and Human Services this week began a study to assess mercury levels in fish of the Gippsland Lakes.

One hundred black bream and 100 dusky flathead will be caught across 10 sites and tested for levels of mercury in their flesh, with the results assessed against national food safety standards.

This will be followed by a broader environmental study into the accumulation of mercury and other heavy metals in the sediment of the lakes.

Sale-based paediatrician Jo McCubbin, who was among community members who called for mercury testing, said the study would “address the problem perfectly”.

“It’s absolutely what’s needed because the CSIRO recommended they needed to follow up and make sure there were not rising levels (of mercury),” Dr McCubbin said.

A group of three Gippsland-based medical doctors, including Dr McCubbin, took matters into their own hands last year and sent 10 black bream bought from a local fish shop for testing.

According to the department, the results indicated the mercury levels were well within health guidelines established in the Food Standards Code.

In a statement, the department said the new study would be in line with research conducted in 1980, 1998 and 2004, each of which also found mercury levels were safe.

“The fish study will provide a comparison to the earlier research, and inform whether there is any immediate risk to public health from consumption of fish from the lakes,” the statement said.

“Mercury is found in the flesh of most fish in all bodies of water, including the Gippsland Lakes and the ocean.

“Food Standards Australia New Zealand does recommend limits to the number of fish portions that should be eaten each week, particularly for children and pregnant women, based on expected mercury levels. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends everyone abide by these standards.

“Black bream and dusky flathead, two of the most commonly-caught fish in the Gippsland Lakes, are not species that are in the high-risk category for mercury accumulation, such as ocean-going fish like sharks, marlin and swordfish.”

Professional fishers will catch the fish for the study.