Environment

Pesticide impact on prawns in Queensland must be heeded: Reef scientist

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"Absolutely. It is a real wake-up call," he said.

He said the research showed that pesticides were above guideline levels in Queensland streams and "that these sorts of pesticide levels can hurt prawns".

“And I guess it really confirms that the federal body, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, is useless.

“It is an industry-captured body.”

The CSIRO research does not show that pesticides affect adult prawns, only the more susceptible prawn larvae.

The three pesticides were fipronil, bifenthrin and imidacloprid.

The APVMA reviewed fipronil in 2011 because of environmental concerns, had completed a review of bifenthrin in 2008 and had never reviewed imidacloprid.

“Australia has a multi-tiered system for regulating agricultural chemicals, with the state and territory governments responsible for control of use,” an APVMA spokesman said.

“The APVMA, as the national regulator, is responsible for registration of chemicals up to the point of sale.”

Dr Brodie said pesticides were being used on farms at levels above government guidelines along the coast, from Cooktown to Brisbane.

He said action had to come from the state government.

“They have these new enhanced regulations for agricultural practice out for comment at the moment,” he said.

“And they should be enforcing that regulation under the particular piece of legislation more tightly.”

Australian Prawn Farmers Association president Matt West agreed farmers’ practices and restrictions on using pesticides had to change quickly, because it was too hard to trace where pesticides entered the waterways.

“It is too hard to police a river catchment for overuse of pesticides,” Mr West said.

“It is going to be really hard to monitor if they are going to look at some sort of permit to release pesticides at certain levels from these farms.

“It would be a very, very, very difficult thing to police."

Mr West said prawn farmers and other downstream industry user groups would prefer more scrutiny and education upstream.

A prawn farm on the Queensland coast. The CSIRO research shows no impact on adult prawns but the pesticides were killing tiger prawn larvae.

Photo: Australian Prawn Farmers Authority

“I think they just need to be far more aware of what sort of pesticides are being used on these agricultural lands.

“And probably policing the use of it a bit more, rather than policing the run-off.”

Marine veterinarian Dr Matt Landos said the impact on prawn larvae was a trigger point for pesticides.

“Prawns are not the most sensitive creature in our waterways, there are a lot more sensitive creatures in our complex marine food webs," Dr Landos said.

“So it likely that there are some significant losers in our estuaries where we see these elevated levels of this chemical, running off from agriculture.”

A spokesman for Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said the effects of pesticide levels on fisheries resources – such as prawns – were influenced by environmental conditions.

"That includes river flow, water quality and fish habitat," a spokesman said.

"However, the issue of CSIRO’s report with regard to pesticides in waterways has only recently been raised with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries by Mr Landos.

"Primarily, this issue centres on the authorised uses of registered agricultural chemicals.

"And, as yet, we cannot confirm the accuracy of CSIRO’s conclusions."

The lead scientist for the CSIRO report, Dr Sharon Hook, said the Queensland government had told her it was about to announce tougher guidelines for pesticide use on farms.

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Tony Moore is a senior reporter at the Brisbane Times

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