The question behind the NCCP

Carp have infested Australia’s waterways. They are now present in huge numbers, dominating native fish and impacting the integrity, health and viability of our aquatic ecosystems. Carp make water muddy, increase nutrients and stop water plants from sprouting.

Experiments have shown that when carp impacts are controlled, these problems can be solved – water clarity improves, small native fish recover, and water plants bloom. If carp impacts could be controlled at the continental scale, the direct and flow-on benefits for Australia could be massive.

The question is, how? 

The National Carp Control Plan (NCCP) is a $15-million project established by the Australian Government to answer this very question.

It’s a big task, which involves all levels of government, Australian and international scientists and researchers, and diverse communities working together to interrogate scenarios, challenge assumptions, and ask and answer real questions.

Informing the plan

Carp coordinator presenting to stakeholders A researcher presents on their preliminary work at an NCCP science workshop in Canberra, ACT.

The job of the NCCP is to produce a document called The National Carp Control Plan. That means using the best available science to develop a smart, safe, effective and integrated approach to controlling carp impacts, by working together and incorporating feedback from the Australian community.

One of the potential tools for controlling carp impacts is a biocontrol agent (a.k.a. the carp virus). However, even though this virus only affects carp, not our native species, and is already in 33 other countries, a lot still needs to be understood before recommendations can be made to the Australian Government on whether or not to proceed with carp biocontrol.

No decision has been made on the carp virus – the NCCP is a process, not a foregone conclusion. That means the carp virus (Cyprinid herpesvirus-3: CyHV-3, sometimes referred to overseas as KHV) has not been released in Australia. Any decision to release the carp virus will be informed by the National Carp Control Plan itself, which is currently under development.

Proposing to introduce any biocontrol agent into Australia raises issues and concerns for some people, including some scientists and natural resource managers. This is because there are still questions that need to be answered about the carp virus efficacy in Australian conditions. 

Could biocontrol be used at the continental scale? Would it really control carp impacts long-term? What are the risks if it worked well? What factors could limit its effectiveness? How do these pieces of information fit together, and how does carp control integrate with other restoration activities already underway?

These are exactly the types of questions that the NCCP is addressing through investment in research under three themes: environment, community, and informing possible release.

Dr Sanjina Upadhyay from the University of Adelaide processes water samples near Berri, S.A.

Right now, there are a dozen research projects being delivered by universities, CSIRO and other experts. These projects are overseen by a separate panel of scientists called the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), who contribute their time to the program. The SAG provides advice to assist in prioritising, funding and managing critical research under the NCCP’s Strategic Research and Technology Plan.

In addition to the Science Advisory Group, three other groups consisting of experts in policy and legislation, communication and engagement, and operational delivery are guiding the development of the plan. These groups are working together to ensure that recommendations made under the plan are: based on the best available science and community consultation; are compliant with relevant legislation; and, are operationally achievable (i.e., practical in the real world).

Supporting decision-making

We are very confident that the depth and breadth of the NCCP science and research program - combined with a collective and coordinated national response to the interrogation of all the issues - will enable Australia to develop a multi-pronged approach for the control of carp, tailored to the variable conditions of our waterways.

In this spirit, the NCCP welcomes all contributions to the process, as we begin to publish and promote the research underway to inform the Plan. You can get in touch by emailing carp@frdc.com.au or calling 1800 CARP PLAN (1800 2277 7526), or attend a community forum.