Further extension of an area restricting fishing in SA’s South East would cause disruption for the region’s valuable rock lobster industry, fishers have warned, following further detections of a deadly abalone disease.

A control area created after the detection of abalone viral ganglioneuritis (AVG) late last month, has now been extended to run from Southend to the SA-Victoria border.

While restrictions within the area have been eased, with some fishing activities permitted, abalone, rock lobster and spearfishing remain banned.

The control area has been extended from Nene Valley to Southend.(Supplied: PIRSA)

Reef diving and the use of anchors are also restricted, and anything permitted to be taken from the area cannot be returned to state waters.

The restrictions will be in place until March 27.

Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) executive director of biosecurity Nathan Rhodes said testing found positive detections across the initial control area, including right up to the western boundary. 

“We’ve got modelling that we’ve developed over the course of the response that gives us cause to be concerned that maybe the disease has progressed further than we thought,” he said. 

“What we have been able to ease is things like line fishing, where you might be dropping baits and sinkers to the bottom.

“We’re comfortable that those things present a lower risk now.”

Rock lobster fisher Andrew Lawrie at his business in Robe.(ABC South East SA: Sam Bradbrook)

Lobster industry ‘nervous’

Rock lobster fisher Andrew Lawrie is based at Robe, north of the control area.

He said the local industry is “getting nervous”.

“People have kept quota back … so the prices even out across the season,” Mr Lawrie said.

“The ones that have kept their quota shouldn’t be penalised, but hopefully they won’t be.”

He said further extension of the zone to cover other towns, such as Beachport and Robe, would create a “major disruption”.

South Australian Rock Lobster Advisory Council Executive Officer Nathan Kimber.(ABC South East SA: Sam Bradbrook )

SA Rock Lobster Advisory Council executive officer Nathan Kimber said the impact on fishers who had yet to fill their quotas was significant.

“We’ve reluctantly accepted the conditions that have been bestowed on our industry the last 10 days,” he said.

“We certainly didn’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus.

“There’s probably going to come a time at some point soon where if they find that this virus has spread even further throughout the southern zone, then bestowing those conditions on us is going to become a waste of time.”

Fishers are able to retrieve their pots currently in the control area until 12 noon on Thursday.

Diseased abalone is identifiable by swollen and protruding mouth parts and curling of the foot.(Supplied: Agriculture Victoria)

Disease not eradicable

A larger “buffer zone” continues from Southend to the Murray Mouth – extending about 10 kilometres out to sea.

In this zone, all fishing activity is permitted, but fishing and diving equipment must be decontaminated, anchors must be cleaned and rinsed, and any catch can be consumed, disposed of on land or returned to the buffer zone.

Mr Rhodes said authorities do not believe AVG has spread into the buffer zone, but is part of managing the disease

“This disease is not going to be eradicable from South Australia unfortunately,” he said.

“So we will have to put in place measures in the longer term that allow us to manage the presence of this disease.

“Longer term, I would hope that we’re in a position where we have access to the water and we have very minimal controls around where we can and can’t undertake these sensitive activities.”

PIRSA is collecting samples today across the south-east coast.

AVG has been detected in wild abalone in SA’s South East.(Supplied: Agriculture Victoria)

Collateral damage

The control area now covers a significant portion of the state’s southern zone abalone fishery, which stretches from the mouth of the Murray to the Victorian border.

Independent chair of Southern Zone Abalone Management, former state Fisheries Minister Rory McEwen, said the zone has just six licences, compared to the larger central and western zones.

“[The rock lobster industry] is collateral damage here and the exclusion zone impacts on them,” Mr McEwen said.

“We have to be very mindful that economically that is a far bigger industry.

“We could get to the point where the collateral damage of restrictions and exclusions to the rock lobster industry is more than the value of the abalone industry.”

However Mr Rhodes said it was “entirely possible” that AVG could spread to other zones if it is not contained.

“What we typically find is that it will creep along through natural movement through the water column,” he said.

“But the really big jumps that we see are directly as a result of people taking part in normal things.”

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