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Tuesday, 12 September 1972
Page: 1123

Mr DAVIES (BRADDON, TASMANIA) - I address a question to the Minister for Primary Industry on behalf of shark fishermen at Stanley in Tasmania. In view of the evidence that mercury in sharks is not from industrial pollution and hence can be expected to te contained at fairly static levels, will the Government take the initiative to raise the legal mercury level for flake from 0.5 parts per million to 1 part per million? Is the Minister aware that the adverse publicity given to this matter has resulted in depressed prices to fishermen? Finally, will the Minister investigate ways and means by which a price subsidy can be given to restore to fishermen the return of 25c per lb, which was the average price in the Victorian market for the last 2 seasons, until such time as some stability and confidence are restored to the industry?

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Primary Industry) - I think it needs to be recognised that it is not really the province of the Government or of politicians at Federal or State level to take a decision on the minimal intake of any particular ingredients. In this instance the decision about mercury content in shark has been based on a level set by the National Health and Medical Research Council of which a subcommittee last week reconsidered the matter. The Australian Fisheries Council, which met in Sydney yesterday, was concerned that the sub-committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council should take into account all the facts that prevail in other countries where this 0.5 parts per million is established as the maximum permisible percentage. It seems that there are 2 variables, one being the percentage of mercury in fish and the other the amount of fish a person eats. In those countries where people are fish eaters to a far greater degree than in Australia there seems to be, in many instances, a higher acceptable standard. I understand that the World Health Organisation is expected to bring out a report on its analysis of mercury levels in fish some time next month. In addition the Commonwealth Government, per medium of the Australian fisheries research grant that I have authorised through the funds available in the Department of Primary Industry, has allocated to the Victorian Government some money specifically to look at this matter.

Of course there are 2 problems. One very real one, which I think all members of this House would accept, is that there must be a final responsibility for medical advice on which to set minimum or maximum percentages of injurious substances. The other real problem concerns the economics of the industry. In this respect the honourable member has suggested the introduction of a subsidy. I think it is probably more appropriate that we investigate to ascertain what other fishing can be undertaken to try to ensure that those who have been so dependent upon shark fishing for a market such as the Victorian market, where I understand that about 70 per cent of fish consumed has been flake or shark, may be able to divert from their present fishing into other areas. However I will look at the honourable member's suggestion but I think it is preferable to allocate funds for research into alternative fishing rather than provide a subsidy for shark fishing jf, in fact, shark does contain above acceptable maximum limits of mercury.

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