Matt Barwick, National Coordinator, National Carp Control Plan

As part of the team working to find a solution to the carp crisis in Australia, I would like to address a number of inaccuracies raised by Professor Simon Chapman on 4 May (“Cane toad 2.0: killing carp with herpes”, SMH, p21).

Like cane toads, Carp are an introduced species that have flourished at the expense of the Australian environment and its native wildlife. They compete with native fish for food, contribute to the occurrence of hamful blue-green algae outbreaks and are thought to play a significant role in the environmental degradation of waterways across the country.

Their scourge is recognised across the country. Following years of concern amongst the community including environmental groups, farmers and industry, the $15 million National Carp Control Plan (NCCP) was established, tasked by the Australian Government to find a solution.

The NCCP is made up of some of Australia’s most recognised universities, institutions and agencies. There are currently 12 research projects underway, which will inform the final list of recommendations made to the Australian Government later this year.

We are investigating a range of solutions, one of which is biocontrol (also known as the carp virus). However, any solution will likely include a multi-pronged approach because there is no silver bullet.

While no decision has been made, experiments have shown that when carp impacts are controlled, water clarity improves, small native fish recover, and water plants bloom. Therefore the flow-on benefits for Australia could be massive.

Over the last eight years, CSIRO scientists have tested if a potential virus could impact a broad range of fish species, and other wildlife such as birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Using appropriate molecular analysis, scientists have proven that the does not multiply in any species other than carp. If it is not multiplying, then it cannot infect, or affect, non-carp species. We are confident of these findings.

The water quality information quoted by Professor Chapman was conducted by Water NSW researchers. These experiments were conducted in 2,000L closed containers, a vast difference to the real life water bodies that exist in Australia. The same research stated that dilution factors are essential when interpreting the results – this information was omitted by Professor Chapman. Crucially, this research also reflects a scenario that involves no clean-up.

Determining effective, and logistically-feasible ways to protect water quality by safely removing dead carp is central to the NCCP research program, and recommendations for how this would be managed will be included in the project’s final recommendations.

Australia is globally recognised for its expertise in biosecurity and biocontrol. To suggest that our knowledge and confidence in biocontrol technologies has not advanced since cane toads were release 80 years ago despite significant scientific advancements, application of stringent, world-leading legislation, and many successfully deployed biocontrol agents is disingenuous and unhelpful to a constructive public debate.

We understand that ornamental and hobby carp breeders like Professor Chapman are concerned about how a biocontrol solution might impact them, and we are engaging with these stakeholders as part of a broader community engagement plan. The concerns of ornamental and hobby Koi Carp breeders are unique to NSW and WA, as they are the only states which allow carp to be kept for domestic reasons.

This is an issue of national importance, and support from the community will be essential for the success of any suggested approach. We will continue to conduct scientific research and community consultation that is focussed on the best way to help Australia address this growing issue.