Two-headed fish mystery deepens

14 Jan, 2009 09:29 AM
Fish larvae with two heads.
Fish larvae with two heads.

The facts read like a Critchon-esque thriller: A fish farmer's latest brood turns out bizarre two-headed fish larvae, allegations of chemical contamination emerge and government agencies remain baffled about just what caused it.

Mystery continues to surround the the two-headed fish larvae at Gwen Gilson's Sunland Fish Hatchery, which came to national attention this week after 90pc of her latest batch of embryos, taken from breeding stock from the Noosa River, emerged deformed, including some with two heads.

But Ms Gilson said the problem wasn't a new one and claimed it was clear to her what was causing it: chemicals from an adjacent macadamia farm.

She and NSW veterinary expert Dr Matt Landos made a video to explain what they thought the impact from the chemicals were, including reducing the catch from the Noosa River and causing health effects in people.

"Over two years ago, we noticed that after the spraying drifted over our ponds, our next batch had convulsions and every time we have used water that has been exposed to the (Carbendazim) spray, we have the same results," Ms Gilson said.

Ms Gilson said that ever since, she has had problems with contaminated water on the site affecting the hatchlings.

"This time, we went to the river to get wild stock and this has happened.

"We still can't use the water from the site and can only get normal births by using water from our other site or treating them with atropine."

Carbendazim products are used for the control of mould, spot, mildew, scorch, rot and blight in a variety of crops including cereals, fruit (pome, stone, citrus, currants, strawberries, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, avocados), as well as macadamia production.

Australian Macadamia Society CEO Jolyon Burnett said no other cases like this had been reported near macadamia farms and the chemicals used by farmers were thoroughly regulated.

"Macadamia farmers often have their families on the farm and they wouldn't spray anything that would have serious health effects on their children," he said.

Initial Department of Primary Industries have so far found the adjacent farms complied with the regulations on Carbendazim limits, a spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Minister Peter Garret said the Department Environment had been asked for an evaluation of whether Carbendazim or another chemical is implicated in the reported fish kills and deformities.

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority spokesman Simon Cubit said the regulations on the fungicide had been under review and if Carbendazim, which is banned in New Zealand for a different use, was found to play a role that would play a critical role in determining whether restrictions would be tightened.

Despite all the speculation, the DPI, which is investigating the matter, along with EPA and local authorities, says dietary, and other environmental factors haven't been ruled out.

"So far we haven't had any traces of the Carbendazim in the water samples taken from the river," an EPA spokesman said today.

Acting Premier Paul Lucas said people should not jump to conclusions until the bizarre incident is thoroughly investigated, as the appearance might be a natural genetic variation.

So as to what caused the two-headed fish hatchlings, only time and solid science will tell.

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


16/01/2009 4:58:33 AM

Sure they are having problems determining what is causing this, after all some 1,500 herbicides, pesicides, household chemicals and fertilizers are dumped onto the land yearly.
19/01/2009 6:47:39 AM

Perhaps these two headed fish should be likened to the canaries in mines and shout a warning to one and all that there is a problem. Many of us have our drinking water sourced from rivers where there is run off from farming. A water treatment works does filter out a lot but not all. Use this as a warning not as was in one of the weekend papers, a tourist attraction.
Murray Macullochella
1/02/2009 1:23:55 PM

Ha ha..."thoroughly regulated", they say. Almost all agricultural chemicals are sold on the condition the farmer reads and adheres to the lable advice. But tens of thousands of tons of chemicals are sold into irrigation districts with the proviso they are not used near water. How's that for thorough!
3/11/2009 6:44:42 PM

That is not right because the chemical would have shown in the tests for the river surrounding the fish farm and the macadamia nut farm. I think the fish farm should look into other causes of the problem.


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Pleased that common sense has prevailed. Being close to the policy makers cannot be underestimated
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JohnCarpenter, The lamb and mutton job is going okay- we must be doing some things right.
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Spot on X. Let the Chinese buy as long as we can buy freely in China