Carp Press Conference
May 1 2016
SUBJECT: CARP CONTROL IN THE MURRAY-DARLING
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well thank you very much for coming this morning here to Murray Bridge to this very important announcement on behalf of the Government. I am joined by Anne Ruston, the Assistant Minister for Water Resources, and Tony Pasin, the Member for Barker. Today the Government can announce that we are going to visit ‘Carpageddon’ on the great pest of the River Murray, the European carp.
In a very exciting development, the CSIRO, working with the Infectious Pests CRC, has discovered after many years of careful research that we can release a virus into the carp population, which is effectively a herpes virus, that will wipe out 95 per cent of the European carp in the River Murray over the next 30 years.
This is a big national project and the Commonwealth is putting $15 million into ensuring that we bring it about. 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. Because suddenly, there will literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tonnes, of carp that will be dead in the River Murray. So we have to have a clean-up programme. We need a community consultation programme. We need to have legislative changes, potentially. And we need to work with the states and territories because the European carp affects the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin, but in fact all waterways across Australia.
We estimate that the European carp is about 80 per cent, potentially more, of the bio mass that is in the River Murray and the Murray-Darling Basin. It is destroying and has destroyed native species of fish over a long period of time.
And it is particularly exciting to be here with Anne Ruston, who is a Riverland girl born and bred, because as she will tell you, not when she was a girl but perhaps when her mother was a girl, the Murray-Darling was in fact a clear river. Certainly the Murray was a clear river. Because the European carp did lots of really noxious things in the river. They stir up all the mud, they drive other fish out – they can’t seem to live in harmony with other fish stocks – and our native fish have been no competition for the European carp.
So while we can see rabbits and we can see native- and we can see domestic goats that have been introduced or donkeys or camels or cane toads, we often overlook the European carp as one of the worst pests in Australia. But as far as the CSIRO is concerned, it is right up there with one of the worst pests in our environment.
So we are going to do something about it and I am very happy to be announcing that today. It will mean long term impacts on the Murray-Darling Basin, but right across the environment in particular and the economy. And to talk about those two things I’m going to ask Anne first and then Tony to comment on those matters.
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Well thank you very much Minister. Well can I say there has been a less exciting time to be a European carp. But look it is a tremendous announcement today, I’m delighted to be here to be part of it. Because as we know there has been a lot of talk about the health of the environment of the River Murray, and one of the things that we often do overlook is our fish. And our native fish stocks have been in constant decline over the years since the carp have been introduced. And this is the first stage of being able to get those native species back in our rivers so that we can actually go fishing and you can catch a callop and you can catch a cod, which is something that people in South Australia and pretty much the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin haven’t been able to do for many many years.
So it is a fantastic project, I’m really looking forward to it. As Chris first said, I can remember sitting and listening to my mother and my grandmother and talking about the fact that times of low flow you could actually see the bottom of the river. Imagine the safety aspects that that will be able to provide when you let your kids go for a swim. At the moment even my 14 year old can’t go for a swim in the river without a life jacket on because you just can’t see more than an inch below the surface. So there are just so many benefits that can be achieved by getting rid of these horrible, noxious creatures out of our river, so that we can return it back and as a great indicator of river health.
So we need to concentrate on all aspects of river health, not just watering the trees and seeing nice trees growing on the bank, but making sure that our native fish stocks are back in the river so that we’ve got a true indicator of river health. So thank you Minister.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Tony.
TONY PASIN MP, MEMBER FOR BARKER: Well, ours is a Government that is focused on growth and employment. In addition to the harm that this insidious pest inflicts on the environment of the River Murray, it’s also doing very real economic harm. It’s estimated that it’s doing harm to the tune of $500 million a year across the Basin. And so this is as much an announcement about economic prosperity and growth as it is about the environment, adding to what, of course, the Assistant Minister has said.
Tony Pasin: Can I say Christopher, thank you for coming and making this announcement here at Murray Bridge. Christopher’s no stranger to Barker. He’s recently purchased property at Robe. Has me in fear, that perhaps in a very long time he might in retirement become a constituent in mine. Which will be fun because he’ll be incredibly well informed and perhaps keep me on my toes. And of course, to the Assistant Minister – she knows this forever, as good as anyone in the Federal Parliament of course, because she lives on it, she grew up on it, and she’s fighting hard, as I am for the interests of South Australian River community.
Christopher Pyne: Questions?
Question: Minister, how do carp catch the virus?
Christopher Pyne: Well, I could say something in response to that [indistinct] that will make it a much more dramatic story, but I won’t...
Question: I’m hoping you will.
Christopher Pyne: [Laughs] I stopped myself.
Question: It was difficult wasn’t it.
Christopher Pyne: It might be Sunday morning, but I certainly stopped myself. Well, there is a controlled release of the virus in the river. The virus can be transmitted fish to fish but also through the water. It affects the European carp by attacking their kidneys, their skin, their gills and stopping them breathing effectively. They have the virus for a week before they show any symptom and it suddenly kills them within 24 hours. The virus has no impact on any other living creature, and a lot of the tests at the CSIRO and the CRC have been about that very matter, to make sure that the virus wouldn’t impact on other native fish, or indeed humans of course. And then, once dead, we have to- the virus dissipates with a number of days from a dead fish. Of course we’ll then need to deal with all the dead carp, which will be a happy thing to be able to deal with, and we’ll do that in a number of different ways, and that’s what this $15 million over the next two years is going to be very much part of the planning process, because there’s obvious talk about whether the carp could be used for fertilizer, whether they could be used for pet food, whether they’ll need to be buried in large graves and be allowed to dissipate back into the system. So it’s a very exciting initiative and project and I think this is a great example of where the CSIRO and the CRC process is really really working. Where science is helping the economy, is helping the environment and is going to make a difference to the world in which we live.
Question: But it won’t be a total eradication. Will it in a sense work like other biological controls? Myxomatosis or [indistinct] with rabbits – you will depress the numbers but there will always be a background population.
Christopher Pyne: There will be a massive instant impact, which will kill millions of carp, or hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of carp. The reason why it’s a 30 year program is because we also need other measures besides the virus to keep control of the carp population. So as many people would understand, within a few years, it’s possible that the carp will develop their own protections against the herpes virus. And therefore we need the project to continue. We don’t want to simply have a big hit on the population and then, in ten years time they’re back where we are now, and that’s why it’s a 30 year program. We expect that over the next- by 2045 we will have eradicated 95 per cent of carp in the Murray Darling Basin. That’s a massive impact. There’ll be parts of the river where there will never be carp again. There will be other parts of the river where pockets of carp might survive, but obviously over the next 30 years, the CSIRO and the CRC process might turn up other ways of keeping control of the population.
Question: Minister, where does this carp st- this herpes strain come from?
Christopher Pyne: It was first discovered in Israel in 1998, where quite accidentally they discovered that the virus just killed, virulently killed, and catastrophically killed groups of carp without any explanation. They obviously investigated that, discovered this virus, and it’s an Indonesian strain of the carp virus, which somehow got to Israel, and obviously scientists have been working on making it work here without affecting other people or any other kind of native species.
Question: Can I ask you another question, and that is after the submarine announcement, Tony was talking about the potential for you retiring to Robe…
Christopher Pyne: [Laughs]
Question: Do you expect that to be later rather than sooner given the submarine…
Tony Pasin: I think I said much later.
Christopher Pyne: I’m a very youthful 48 year old Simon. I have absolutely no plans to retire.
Question: Are you more confident that your electorate won’t retire you at this election because of the sub announcement? Has it done the job I’m asking?
Christopher Pyne: I’m always in the hands of the voters of Sturt. Every three years they get to pass judgement on whether they think I’ve done a good job and whether they think I’ll do a good job in the future. Obviously I’m very pleased this week to have delivered the submarine project to Adelaide with my Federal colleagues from South Australia. It’ll have a real impact. I mean this is as big for South Australia today, in modern terms, as discovering copper in Kapunda in 1838 was for the native colony. This will transform the wealth of this state.
Question: And has it transformed your fortunes?
Christopher Pyne: Well, I never want to be a political commentator about your own political success or failure Simon, so I’ll leave it up to the commentators like you to talk about. I just get out and meet my voters and do the job that I think is best, and try and create the economy and the environment that will lead to jobs and growth, and I’ll leave them to cast judgement on election day.