Australia Releasing Herpes Virus Into Rivers To Destroy European Carp

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Australia plans to spend 15 million dollars in a bid to exterminate European carp by releasing a strain of herpes virus into the country’s largest waterway.

Tuesday’s federal budget will include funding for the clearing of the Murray-Darling Basin from the country’s worst freshwater feral pest, Australian authorities said on Sunday.

According to the Australian, the killer koi herpes virus, spread by infected carp touching each other and in surrounding water, and cannot infect any other form of life, including ­humans, birds, animals or crustaceans such as yabbies that might feed on the dead or diseased carp bodies.

The Guardian reports:

The plan includes the staged release of the carp-specific herpes virus in the Murray-Darling basin. CSIRO scientists have been testing the virus in Australian native fish species and other animals found along the river for the past seven years and have established that it is safe to release into the ecosystem without harming other species.

The virus affects the carp’s skin and kidneys, takes about seven days to have a noticeable effect and, once it takes hold, usually kills the fish within 24 hours.

A joint ministerial taskforce will finalise the national plan and includes the minister for industry, innovation and science, Christopher Pyne, the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, and the minister for the environment, Greg Hunt.

“The common carp is a nasty pest in our waterways and makes up 80% of fish biomass in the Murray Darling Basin,” Pyne said.

“Anyone who loves the Murray knows what damage the carp have caused to the river environment over many years. The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and the CSIRO have made significant progress evaluating a viral biological control agent, we know that it works, we know it’s completely safe, now we need to plan the best way to roll it out.”

Joyce said the economic impact of carp was estimated at $500m a year, mostly in regional Australia, and especially along the Murray River.

Current control measures, including trapping, commercial fishing and exclusion, were expensive and largely ineffective at controlling carp over large areas or for any length of time, he said.

Carp also threaten others species by making water turbid, causing erosion and out-competing native fish for food and resources.

The Australian Conservation Foundation described the funding and staged release of the virus as “a good first step”. The foundation’s healthy ecosystems program manager, Jonathan La Nauze, said the funding would enable the community consultation and planning required to ensure the virus was released safely and without unwanted impacts on river communities.

Niamh Harris
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