Australia to use herpes virus to combat invasive carp

Invasive carp are estimated to cost the Australian economy $500 million per year.
By Brooks Hays  |  Updated May 3, 2016 at 5:17 PM
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SYDNEY, May 3 (UPI) -- The United States isn't the only country with an invasive carp problem.

Australia's native freshwater fish species have been decimated by alien carp, and now the nation's government is moving ahead with a $15 million plan to release a herpes virus into one of the island continent's largest river systems.

In addition to the serious ecological damage, invasive carp are also estimated to cost the Australian economy $500 million per year.

Invasive carp species now account for more than 80 percent of the fish in the Murray-Darling drainage system. Over the weekend, the Australian government announced that the herpes strain cyprinid herpesvirus 3 will be released into the Murray-Darling system sometime during the next 2.5 years.

"We would expect to release the virus by the end of 2018, because as you can imagine there is a lot of work to be done in preparation for the outcome," Christopher Pyne, Australia's science minister, said at a press conference on Sunday. "Because suddenly, there will literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tonnes, of carp that will be dead in the River Murray."

Scientists say the virus has been exhaustively tested for safety and poses little risk to humans or other species. Its complex DNA inhibits its ability to jump to new hosts.

"I think it's a great idea, but I guess it's like a lot of these tricky biological control approaches -- there are always risks," Richard Kingsford, a scientist at the University of New South Wales, told New Scientist.

The main risk is that the carp quickly develop a resistance to the virus.

Australian officials expect the virus to kill upwards of 80 to 90 percent of carp.

"The virus kills large numbers of the target for the first couple of years," the Australian government announced in a press release. "But gradually, over time, some resistance builds up. However, numbers never recover to their original levels."

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