Barnaby Joyce is spending $15 million to give feral fish herpes

Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Carp — think goldfish gone feral — are a huge problem in Australia’s rivers.

The common carp (cyprinus carpio) is a relative of the goldfish which began to establish itself in the nation’s waterways over the last 50 years and now dominates the Murray–Darling Basin, where the introduced species can make up 80-90% of the river system’s fish biomass.

Carp are aggressive and predatory, driving out native species to the point of extinction. They make the water turbid, cause erosion and out-compete native fish for food and resources.

On Sunday, water resources and agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce announced the budget would feature $15 million in government funding for a National Carp Control Plan.

A key part of the strategy is a deadly carp-specific virus, which the CSIRO has been testing for eight years. The koi herpes virus is spread when infected carp touch, but does not harm other animals, including those who feed off dead fish that died of the disease.

Barnaby Joyce said the economic impact of carp is estimated at up to $500 million annually.

“Carp are the worst freshwater aquatic pest in Australia,” he said.

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

Scientists hope the biological weapon will change the game and eliminate the feral species.

The budget announcement will see a joint ministerial taskforce which will finalise the national plan with the state and territory governments.

“This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to manage one of the country’s most devastating pests, which has progressively decimated native fish populations and reduced water quality since it became established,” Joyce said.

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