All clear for Gippsland Lakes fish

Mercury in fish caught from the Gippsland Lakes is within health guidelines, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The department began a study in May involving the analysis of 90 black bream and 20 dusky flathead from selected sites across the lakes.

Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Professor Michael Ackland said the results were in line with studies conducted over the past 35 years.

“These fish were tested for levels of mercury in their flesh, and the results assessed against national food safety standards,” Prof Ackland said.

“Our testing shows the mercury levels are well within health guidelines set out in the Food Standards Code, and I am satisfied that fish from the Gippsland Lakes continue to be wholesome and safe to eat.”

Prof Ackland said from the 90 black bream tested, the average mercury levels in the flesh were 0.15 milligrams per kilogram, well under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand upper average limit of 0.5mg per kg.

The maximum mercury level measured in the black bream was 0.36mg per kg. Under the guidelines, the maximum allowable value for any one fish is 1.5mg per kg.

For the dusky flathead, the average mercury level measured was 0.17mg per kg. The FSANZ average benchmark is 0.5mg per kg.

The maximum measured level was 0.55mg per kg in only one fish. The benchmark is set at 1.5mg per kg.

Prof Ackland said the only area of the lakes where fish were not able to be tested was Lake Wellington, as it is dominated by carp.

“I’d like to acknowledge the commercial fishers down here who have bent over backward to capture the fish for us as quickly as they could so we could get the result before the summer period so people can have confidence coming down here,” Prof Ackland said.

The study followed local community concerns raised late last year about mercury levels in fish and the Gippsland Lakes.

Sale-based paediatrician Jo McCubbin, who was among a group of three Gippsland medical doctors calling for testing, labelled the results as “very promising news”.

“It’s a good outcome and a credit to the chief medical officer the way he got all the government departments around the table and applied some proper science to it,” Dr McCubbin said.

Previous research studies were conducted in 1980, 1998 and 2004, which all found mercury levels were well within food safety guidelines.

FSANZ recommends limits to the number of fish portions that should be eaten each week, particularly for children and pregnant women, based on expected mercury levels present in the fish.

It advises people can safely eat two to three serves a week of most types of fish, particularly all species that can be in the Gippsland Lakes.

Commonly-caught black bream and dusky flathead are not species that are in the high risk category for mercury accumulation, such as ocean going fish like sharks, marlin and swordfish.