Fishing around Port Pirie

The following information relates to recreational fishing and does not apply to commercial (or recreational) fishing outside of the specified closure locations.

Sediments in the Port Pirie River estuary and parts of Germein Bay near Port Pirie are contaminated with lead and other metals after more than 100 years of smelter operation.

Some seafood caught in the Port Pirie River estuary and nearby waters may contain levels of cadmium and lead that can be dangerous. Young children and people who are pregnant or planning pregnancy are particularly vulnerable to harm from these toxic metals.
This seafood is an easily avoidable source of these toxic metals and there are precautions you can take to protect your health.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) implemented a temporary precautionary fishing closure on 15 September 2020, to enable further investigation of potential health risks from consuming seafood caught in the Port Pirie River Estuary area (JPG 6.6MB).

Testing commenced in October 2020, with a number of species caught and analysed in Zone 1 and Zone 2 of the closure area. Initial screening of the test results against food safety standards set by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) identified that some average and/or maximum lead and cadmium levels in some species were above the standards. These findings indicate that further detailed assessment of the health risk is needed. This assessment and actions to manage the risks identified is being undertaken.

PIRSA extended a temporary, precautionary fishing closure for Zone 1 and Zone 2 on 15 September 2021 for a further 12 months until 15 September 2022.

Which areas have high sediment contamination levels?

Previous studies have shown that shellfish collected from the Port Pirie River estuary and parts of Germein Bay contained lead at levels that exceed the maximum level of contaminants allowed in food.

A report published by the University of South Australia in 2020 indicates that the levels of pollutants in marine and estuary sediments remain high. The report defines two zones where sediment contamination levels are a significant concern.

Where is fishing currently restricted?

  • Zone 1 – high contamination – waters south and west of Weeroona Island Boat Ramp and including First Creek, Second Creek and Port Pirie River
    • all species including all molluscs, crustaceans (eg. blue swimmer crabs) and finfish must not be taken from this area. Catch and release fishing is permitted.
  • Zone 2 – intermediate contamination – waters in the Port Germein area, extending north and west from Weeroona Island Boat Ramp
    • bivalve molluscs (eg. oysters, mussels, scallops and razorfish), must not be taken from this area.

Fishing is permitted outside of Zone 1. Catch and release fishing is permitted in Zone 1.

Follow the directions of the closure notice published by the Department of Primary Industries and Port Pirie fishing closure map (PDF 268KB).

Why is eating contaminated seafood a concern?

Pollutants such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury can be absorbed by filter feeders such as shellfish and molluscs that live in or near contaminated sediments. Crabs and prawns (crustaceans) can ingest metals present in algae and other small organisms. Fish are known to accumulate a variety of toxins and metals in the organs and bones, and in some cases in the edible parts of the fish. These metals build up (bio-accumulate) in the body tissues and organs of fish and can be passed through the food chain to other animals and humans.

Eating seafood that contains small amounts of metals can be a health risk. Cadmium and lead can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and other organs that can persist over a lifetime. People should avoid or significantly minimise their exposure to these toxic metals.

The following people are particularly vulnerable to harmful health effects of cadmium and lead:

  • Young children under 5 years of age and people who are pregnant
  • People with chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease
  • People with lead-risk occupations or hobbies who already have a high lead intake
  • People with a blood lead level near or above the national guideline who already have lead exposure

Cooking does not reduce the levels of lead and other metals in seafood. This risk can be avoided by choosing commercially-produced seafood or seafood caught outside of the closure area.