Scientists and commercial fishermen say Australia’s rollout of a carp herpes virus is being rushed through, risking relationships with international trading partners.
There are concerns the virus could travel to markets like Papua New Guinea where carp are valued as a food source.
The National Carp Control Plan is working on a plan to reduce the number of carp in Australian waterways and is investigating whether a herpes virus that attacks and kills carp, should be released.
At end of 2018, a formal recommendation will be made on the best way to control carp impacts, based on results of research projects and input from communities involved the consultation project.
Former Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce described European carp as the “rabbits of our waterways” when announcing the plan two years ago.
Victorian commercial fisherman John Ingram, who harvests carp for international markets, said just talk of the potential release of the virus was damaging his business.
“Our export business has been halted,” Mr Ingram said.
Talk of virus impacts exports
“We’re dealing with people in Poland on export orders of the trunks and roe and as soon as talk of the virus came out, everything’s just been put on hold,” Mr Ingram said.
“At the end of the day if they release the virus we’re going to have no fish so no one wants to set up a business and then supply runs out in 12 months.”
Mr Ingram said talk of the virus was also affecting his eel exports with Japan.
“Japan is very nervous because along with other countries they’re spending millions trying to eradicate the virus and they don’t want to import eels out of Australia if they’re coming out of virus affected water,” Mr Ingram said.
“They’re just hanging back now and waiting to see what the Australian government does.”
John Ingram and his father Peter Ingram have about a $1 million invested in their business.
Mr Ingram said his bank was concerned about how he would keep making repayments on the business loan.
“The bank wants to know how we’re going to service our loans because our whole business model to the bank was all on exporting carp which has ceased,” Mr Ingram said.
“There’s never been any provisions in place from the start of the virus talk to help anyone in the industry, no legal representation to help us out.”
Concern virus could spread beyond Australia
Kevin Zai, who worked as a consultant in Papua New Guinea for 17 years said he feared the virus would spread to PNG where carp are an important commodity socially and economically.
“If they spread this virus and it kills the carp in Australia, what happens if it possibly escapes the borders?” Mr Zai said.
“Our biosecurity in Papua New Guinea is not as strict as Australia.
“If it gets up into East Sepik [river] we have more than 100,000 people who live on the Sepik and they as a source of protein [use] this carp.
“This is going to hurt a lot of people because they need that protein to survive and it’s a form of income.”
Mr Zai said the Federal Government needed to look at the possibility of the virus escaping Australian borders.
“I think a scientist will have to look into this theory of the possibility of the virus escaping to other countries including Papua New Guinea,” Mr Zai said.
“At the moment scientists are saying the probability is that it can.
Careful evaluation needed
Dr Keller Kopf from Charles Sturt University said it was possible that the virus could spread outside of Australia.
“There is a chance that people could transport this virus where it’s not wanted,” he said.
“That’s something that would be very hard to control.
“It is a disease that can be spread relatively easily in contaminated water and contaminated fish.
“Australia I think does have an obligation, given this is a disease listed by the World Health Organisation, to deal with this release in a way that’s responsible and is at least evaluating it causing harm and spreading to other places.”
Risks are being considered
National Carp Control Plan Coordinator Matt Barwick said it was considering risks to international trade as part of its research.
“The strategies that we use to prevent any undesirable disease or pathogen from going in or out across borders is biosecurity measures,” Mr Barwick said.
“In this case this is a fragile virus that doesn’t last long outside of carp.
“We don’t have a lot of international trade of carp products in Australia so those factors combined with our strong biosecurity measures are quite effective in mitigating that risk.”
More research funding needed
In Australia scientists have called for more research and funding because they say there are many unanswered questions.
Queensland scientist Dr Jonathan Marshall said there was a risk the virus would not provide the results the Federal Government was after.
“I just don’t think we understand enough about the interaction between the virus and its host, the carp, and the population dynamics of carp themselves in Australia, to be really confident that the virus would have the long-term impacts on the population of carp that everyone’s hoping for,” Dr Marshall said.
He said while the research was all good research, the timeframe for coming up with a recommendation was too short to address all of the questions.
“There’s questions related to efficacy,” he said.
“There’s also a series of questions relating to the benefits to native biodiversity of actually removing carp.
“I don’t think that’s as certain as it needs to be.”
Call for more money and time
The Federal Government has funded $15 million to develop the carp control plan.
Just $5 million of that has been allocated for research.
There is $4 million of funding that has been set aside for implementing the plan even though a decision is yet to be made on whether the virus should be released. That decision is due at the end of the year.
Dr Kopf said more money and time was needed for the Federal Government to make an informed decision.
“There needs to be more to rigorously address these questions and evaluate the potential benefits and risks in a rigorous way. $5 million is just not going to touch it,” Dr Kopf said.
“It’s not going to come close to being sufficient in my opinion.”
Victoria’s Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford, has written to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud requesting a full breakdown of how the $15 million is being spent.
Amid this, fisherman John Ingram is worried his livelihood is at stake.
“We’re sort of stuck, we can’t move forward.
“Even if we wanted to get out the carp business we can’t sell the business because who would want to invest in it now?”