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Approval sought for carp ‘myxomatosis’ in Australia

Approval sought for carp ‘myxomatosis’ in Australia

Approval to rid Australia’s waterways of carp has been sought, with an alliance of industry and environmental groups uniting to support the import of Cyprinid herpesvirus, more commonly known as ‘carp herpes’.

The naturally occurring, specialised disease has been rigorously tested by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) for over a decade to prove that it only kills carp.

Carp, known to some in Australia as “the rabbit of the river” are a non-native species, yet have a huge impact upon the eco-systems they inhabit. Whilst many eradication projects have been attempted, carp make up 80-90% of the fish in the Murray Darling river network; this is a figure that has shot up from 58% in 2011, according the Threatened Species Council.

Sucking mud from riverbeds in order to feed, the carp then spit out sediment which leads to muddy waterways and the smothering of plant life and native fish eggs. Additionally, they can also carry a parasite that infects native species, contributing further to their falling numbers.

Speaking in favour of the virus’ introduction National Irrigators Council chief-executive, Tom Chesson, commented that “This single initiative could be as important as myxomatosis was to halting the rabbit plagues.”

The lead researched for the project as CSIRO, Ken McColl spoke about the work they had done to ensure that other species are not affected by the virus, saying: “The virus doesn’t cause disease in any species that we have looked at; it doesn’t even seem to multiply in other species. We are very confident that it’s only going to affect carp.”

Affecting the kidneys and skin of carp, which control water balance in the fish, the virus is spread through direct contact between carp and takes around one week to have an affect. After this the carp usually dies within 24 hours.

The disease is slow-spreading in terms of its movement down through river systems, which would allow for rivers to be cleaned of dead fish.

The managing director of the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, Allan Hansard, supports the proposals, saying that “There is a tremendous opportunity to transform our rivers and recreational fisheries through the biological control of carp. Testing has confirmed that the carp virus is specific to carp, and will kill 70-100% of carp in a short time-frame under optimal conditions.”

He went on to say, “The benefits are clear. Research has revealed that around five million Australians fish recreationally, and that fishing is worth billions to the Australian economy. Carp impact significantly on a number of the species that recreational fishers love to catch. Quite a modest investment in Australia’s Carp biocontrol programme could deliver transformational change, environmentally and economically.”

It is estimated that it could take up to 15 months for the virus’s importation, with approval needed under four separate Federal Government acts. An application to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is expected to be made in coming weeks.

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