Federal and state agricultural ministers have agreed to continue researching a herpes virus for potential release into Australian waterways overrun with carp, but an expert says doing so risks wasting time and money.

Key points:

  • The Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer says a decision on whether to release the virus is unlikely to be made for several years
  • A former national carp task force member says it is time to act and that a “golden opportunity” to release the virus has been missed
  • Funding for the plan was announced in 2016 and the process has been repeatedly delayed

The decision comes almost a year after the National Carp Control Plan – the largest feasibility study of a biological control agent in Australia – was made public.

The six-year study cost $10.4 million, which was drawn from $15.2m dedicated to the research by the federal government in 2016.

Australian Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer Bertie Hennecke said the additional research would initially be funded from what was left of the original funding.

He said the research priorities included clarifying any adverse effects of the virus on other fish species and its effectiveness in killing carp, which would require field studies in countries where the virus exists, such as Israel and the United States.

River communities have previously expressed their concerns about the clean-up that could follow the release of the virus.(ABC Broken Hill: Bill Ormonde)

“A scientific committee will now reform to look at these priorities and potentially bring international researchers in,” Dr Hennecke said.

“We want to be really making sure that the carp virus doesn’t cause any risk, so that it is safe and effective to be released.”

Communities across the Murray-Darling Basin have been dealing with increased carp numbers in the wake of flooding in 2022-23.(ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)

‘Golden opportunity’ missed?

Dr Hennecke said state and federal agricultural ministers and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority would need to assess the findings before making a decision about approving the release of the virus.

“We are still looking at a few years until the virus gets released,” he said.

Former national carp task force member and recreational fisher Peter Teakle said it was time for action, not more research.

“We could be researching this issue for another 10 years and at the end of the day there would still be nothing done, just money put to something that doesn’t come to fruition,” he said. 

Mr Teakle said governments should have released the carp virus during the floods that have occurred in the last few years.

“I think we’ve missed a golden opportunity,” he said.

“Then there would have been enough water in the system on recession to flush the virus out.”

Mr Teakle said he was concerned about the environmental impacts from releasing the virus during drier times.

“This virus could be detrimental to our native fish species,” he said.

“Then you’ve got to have a look at your potable water quality and what resources would be needed to get good water back into the system.”

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