National Carp Control Plan

LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
WEDNESDAY, 21 JUNE 2017

 National Carp Control Plan

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 14:55 :00 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water and the River Murray questions with regard to the National Carp Control Plan.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The federal government, as all members would be aware, plans to target European carp with the herpes virus, potentially leaving thousands of tonnes of dead carp in the River Murray, and that carp virus will not be released before the end of 2018. At the end of 2018, the National Carp Control Plan will make a formal recommendation on the best way to control carp impacts in Australia.

If it is recommended that the carp virus form part of a suite of carp control measures, and if formal approval is granted, the carp virus may then be released. In that case the initial release sites and specific pattern of release would follow the results of relevant research funded under research theme three, informing possible implementation.

It has been reported that it will cost some $30 million for New South Wales alone for a clean‑up, as stated by the New South Wales Natural Resources Commission 'Shared Problems, Shared Solutions—Pest Animal Management Review of 2016. I note that the then minister of science, Christopher Pyne, first raised this matter in May 2016 in terms of a government decision and stated, with regard to the use for the dead fish, 'We're either going to turn them into fertiliser, or pet food maybe, or dig enormous holes and put them in there.'

I note that the EPA does not allow enormous amounts of dead carp to be buried, and that was certainly pilloried at the time by commercial carp fisherman Gary Warwick. My questions to the minister are:

1.How will the EPA or SA Water be involved or consulted on the plan to remove dead carp from the waterways and protect water quality if the plan to infect carp with herpes virus is approved?

2.Is there a cost breakdown available from our state agencies similar to that one provided by the New South Wales Natural Resources Commission?

3.Most importantly, is the minister confident that the Carp Control Plan and other complementary measures will not be used as an excuse to reduce volumes or flow of environmental water in the basin?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:57 :34 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question on 'carpageddon'. The common or European carp are considered the worst freshwater aquatic pest in South-Eastern Australia, particularly of course within the Murray-Darling Basin, where I am advised they make up more than 60 per cent of fish biomass. They have had a significant impact on populations of a wide range of native plants and animals.

The carp herpes virus offers a potential option for the biological control of the common carp in Australia. The Invasive Animal Cooperative Research Centre research program, undertaken by CSIRO and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, has been working on this potential virus biocontrol for a number of years.

Significant progress has been made in evaluating the effectiveness of the virus on carp populations, and its absolute specificity to common carp. All research is done in high security quarantine and shows that the virus, to date, will not infect other exotic or native fish, and I am advised that there is a high level of confidence in that advice from the CSIRO.

The Australian government announced $15 million for the development of a national carp control plan in May 2016, with a subsequent announcement in November that the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation will be tasked with developing the national carp control plan. This includes the appointment of Mr Matt Barwick to the role of national carp coordinator for the project, and the plan will get Australia prepared for the release of the virus. Developing the plan will require further research, stakeholder consultation and risk assessment and mitigation strategies (that is a bit of an understatement, I think).

A number of working groups are being established by the FRDC (Fisheries Research and Development Corporation) to work through these complex issues surrounding the proposed release, to which the honourable member referred in her explanation.

Overall governance will be through the intergovernmental Invasive Plants and Animals Committee. The South Australian government's representative on the science advisory group is Associate Professor Qi Feng Ye, principal scientist and science leader for Inland Waters and Catchment Ecology in SARDI. The South Australian government's representative on the policy advisory group is Dr John Virtue, General Manager of Strategy, Policy and Invasive Species in Biosecurity SA.

South Australia supports the biocontrol of carp in principle, but considers substantial risk is associated with it and substantial further work, therefore, is needed before a final decision is made regarding the release of the carp herpes virus. This includes ecological risk assessment, a well‑considered, detailed and costed plan for the release of the virus, which we don't currently have, which adequately addresses these risks. Conversations with local communities are important and development of complementary control measures and complementary management actions are required.

I am advised that South Australia will not be endorsing the release of the virus without considering a detailed risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis, which are prerequisites to approval under the state's Biological Control Act 2004. South Australia will also need clarity on the total cost of implementing the plan and who will bear these costs before release of the virus could be agreed to. South Australia expects majority national investment will be required particularly in relation to managing any severe long-term water quality impacts on our state arising from the mass carp death upstream.

It should be noted that the virus will not eradicate all carp. That's too much to hope for. Modelling predicts that a release of the carp herpes virus will result in an initial carp reduction of 70  to 80 per cent, followed by a slow recovery to 30 to 40 per cent of the pre-release population, if not coordinated with further strategic management controls to further reduce the carp numbers. They will probably be more physical in nature, if they are indeed undertaken.

There is a national need, I believe, to develop and adopt other carp control and ecosystem recovery measures at the same time to complement this virus release, if it happens, to make sure we can double-down and get the best kill rate of these carp.

As I said, there are some risks that we are concerned about for South Australia. They are fairly obvious to most people who want to think about this. Don't forget, we take a large part of our drinking water supplies from the River Murray. One can only imagine what would happen if there is an uncontrolled release of the virus without a plan in place to deal with the dead and dying fish and the impact that will have, not just on the infrastructure of SA Water, but also its potential impacts on taste that will come down the river and into our water supply system.

The Hon. M.C. Parnell: Instant fish sauce.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The Hon. Mark Parnell comes up with some innovative ideas on other utilities for the dead and dying fish biomass. I am sure there might be an idea in that in terms of job creation and innovation, but it is not something I am keen to pursue, but the Hon. Mark Parnell might like to.

There is also some potential impact on water storage, some of which are also homes for carp. Aquatic ecosystems will also be impacted. We need to have better research on what we can expect to happen there. The logistics and the costs involved in a large-scale clean-up effort, including responsible agencies and possible support for local government, which will feel the brunt of a lot of this, need to be developed further along with these control measures. As I said earlier, the community engagement goes hand-in-hand with this. Without that, I believe there won't be a social licence to release the virus.

Biosecurity SA and DEWNR have convened a one-day South Australian government agency workshop to discuss the implications of releasing this virus. It was recommended that a whole‑of‑government approach be taken to enable South Australia to contribute to the development of the National Carp Control Plan. The workshop consisted of representatives from PIRSA, DEWNR, EPA, SA Water, SA Health, local councils along the River Murray and researchers from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Invasive Animals CRC and the University of Adelaide.

It goes without saying that the proposed release of this virus is probably unprecedented due to the nature and scale of the release, although not dissimilar to the rabbit calicivirus, of course, but with totally different implications for the river environment, which is much more concentrated than broad scale rabbit infestations across the country. It will require work across portfolios and governments, but also crucial partnerships with communities and local government to ensure, if it is implemented, that it is done successfully and at least cost to the community.

South Australia considers the commonwealth-led development of the National Carp Control Plan must include the following: a key communication strategy; ecological, social and economic risk assessments and mitigation strategies; human health risk assessment; compensation and support package for affected parties; release protocols; a release strategy with consideration to complementary control measures—for example, daughterless carp. I am not quite sure what they are but I will seek some further advice for the honourable member on that as that might be an area of some interest. I am sure it is something to do with GM control of fertility but we will come back to you on that.

In addition, there are management actions, that is, habitat restoration and control. There will need to be a clean-up strategy—pretty obvious; ongoing monitoring and evaluation to see what impact the virus release is having; research programs to fill critical knowledge gaps, and there are a lot of them; and, of course, ongoing management. Biosecurity SA has contracted the University of Adelaide to undertake pilot field research on the effects of large-scale fish kill, water oxygen depletion and water quality to the River Murray.

I am advised the release of the virus will require a number of commonwealth approvals under the Biosecurity Act 2015, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act. Approval will be also be required under jurisdictions and the Biological Control Act which mirrors legislation which requires unanimous agreement from all states and territories and the commonwealth following comprehensive risk assessment and benefit cost analysis and proposed virus release. Further relevant SA legislative approvals will include the Fisheries Management Act 2007 and the Environment Protection Act 1993.

There are a number of fisheries issues which I am not really supposed to comment about but I can say to the honourable member as part of the government's current strategy to control carp, six commercial fishers in the River Murray from the New South Wales border to Wellington, and 36 licence holders in the Lakes and Coorong fishery are licensed to take carp. In 2014-15, the total catch of carp from the River Murray and Lower Lakes was 570 tonnes with a gross value of production of $691,000. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries has contracted Ridge Partners, an agribusiness and resources consultancy to investigate the direct and indirect economic impacts of the recreational and commercial fishery in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The honourable member spoke about complementary measures and this is one of them. These have been agitated at MinCo on the River Murray for some time now. It has been South Australia's position that complementary measures in and of themselves are good if they deliver an environmental outcome, but if they do not return a flow then they are no-go. South Australia's position on this has been that complementary measures should be advanced by jurisdiction, state and commonwealth but they will not be considered for flow adjustment unless they have a flow adjustment component which is backed up by the CSIRO methodology, in which case they are not complementary measures they are either adjustments or efficiency measures.

That has been our consistent position, and I am pleased to advise the council that on Friday it appears that New South Wales and Victoria have finally accepted that position. They are keen to work on complementary measures because they will provide synergistic benefits for the basin plan outcomes but they will need to be funded separately and we are keen to encourage the commonwealth to look at how they might deliver these good environmental programs but outside of the Murray-Darling Basin agreement budget.

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