The Australian Government is investigating a long-term biological control plan to reduce the impacts on our waterways from one of the country’s most devastating pests – carp.
How carp are hurting the country
Carp (Cyprinus carpio) - also referred to as common carp or European carp, are one of the worst introduced pest species in Australia. They have inflicted significant social, environmental and economic impacts.
Introduced to Australia over 100 years ago, carp have become the most dominant large-bodied fish in the Murray-Darling Basin making up to 80-90 per cent of fish biomass. Carp have major negative impacts on water quality and the amenity value of our freshwater environments. Carp also have a devastating impact on biodiversity and have decimated native fish populations in many areas since they first became established as a major pest in the wild in the 1960s. Unfortunately, carp can now be found in almost all states and territories.
National Carp Control Plan
On 1 May 2016, the Australian Government announced $15.2 million in funding to investigate the feasibility of the cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (carp virus) as a biological control agent for common carp to improve water quality in waterways across Australia. Of this funding, $10.4 million was allocated to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) to undertake a feasibility assessment, referred to as the National Carp Control Plan (NCCP).
The NCCP is the largest feasibility assessment of a biological control agent undertaken in Australia, taking over six years, involving 11 national and international research institutions and over 40 research scientists. The program, to determine whether the carp virus can be used as a biological control for carp within Australian waterways has been overseen by working groups (scientific, policy, operational and communications) and included extensive consultation. Unfortunately, the research work was affected by Covid-19 causing some unforeseen and unavoidable delays.
The FRDC led a process of stakeholder consultation, detailed planning investigations and targeted research by experts. The NCCP outlines research outcomes and recommendations regarding the proposed release of carp virus to control carp populations.
Following the completion of the research work, the FRDC released the NCCP in November 2022. The NCCP is a large and comprehensive body of work comprising over 3800 pages of documents including 19 peer reviewed research papers, nine technical papers and five further planning investigation studies.
The NCCP reached a set of conclusions that addressed central questions regarding virus specificity, transmissibility and disease propagation, carp aggregation behaviour, and the feasibility of implementing the proposed biocontrol program. The NCCP also highlighted a list of research uncertainties around virus specificity and safety, effectiveness, and feasibility that were recommended to address through further research. Information addressing these uncertainties would lessen the risks and provide greater assurance for decision makers and stakeholders.
At the Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) on October 6, 2023, the Commonwealth, and state and territory Agriculture Ministers agreed to progress research work for the remaining critical priority actions identified in the NCCP. These priority actions address the range of uncertainties raised in the NCCP regarding carp virus specificity and safety, effectiveness, and feasibility. The Ministers also agreed that the remaining funds of $3.6 million, allocated in 2016 by the Australian Government to investigate carp virus biocontrol, would be made available to complete the next phase of research.
Following AMM’s decision to proceed with the program and the next phase of research, the Environment, and Invasives Committee (EIC) Carp Task-Group has evaluated the NCCP recommendations and developed a set of priority actions for further research work:
- Determine the susceptibility of non-target species, including rainbow trout, native species, and species in marine environments to the carp virus.
- Understand impacts on threatened species, communities, and other Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) - including regulatory considerations, along with ecosystem risks to river systems.
- Understand all mechanisms of virus transmissibility in natural settings.
- Understand efficacy, including the role of carp aggregations and latency, in natural settings.
- Undertake cost-benefit analysis to determine the feasibility of the biological control program.
- Verify uncertain epidemiological assumptions.
- Consider integrated carp management as an alternative or complementary to virus release.
This next phase of the research program, following the agreement reached by the Commonwealth, and state and territory Agriculture Ministers at the October 2023 AMM, will be coordinated through the Environmental Biosecurity Office, which is headed by the Australian Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry.
The Scientific Advisory Group that was engaged with the research work for the NCCP as an advisory body, will be re-established as a central scientific and technical advisory body to develop the research activities, identify specialist researchers, and consider the research results generated.
The program of research is designed to deliver critical decision-making information in stages. All Agriculture Ministers are the ultimate decision makers and will determine the future of the research program, including if a critical result indicates a release of the carp virus is not safe, ineffective or unfeasible.
What else is needed?
In addition to the next phase of research, considerably more work is required before any potential release of the carp virus could occur. Extra work is needed across a range of areas, including:
- Implementation planning
- Working through legislative approvals processes, primarily the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Biological Control Act 1984, Biosecurity Act 2015 and various state and territory legislation.
- Additional research into the production of the carp virus for approval under the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994.
- Public consultation.
Further, integrated carp management involving traditional fish reduction and extraction methods, as an alternative or complementary to the carp virus biocontrol program will also be considered as part of the next stage of work.
Contents of the NCCP
The National Carp Control Plan and the nine technical papers are available to download.
Nine technical papers
Carp biocontrol background (PDF 948 KB)
Epidemiology and release strategies (PDF 977 KB)
Carp biocontrol and water quality (PDF 937 KB)
Carp virus species specificity 2022 (PDF 802 KB)
Potential socio-economic impacts of carp control 2022 (PDF 1.34 MB)
NCCP implementation (PDF 1.92 MB)
NCCP engagement report (PDF 1.20 MB)
NCCP Murray and Murrumbidgee case study (PDF 8.39 MB)
NCCP Lachlan case study (PDF 2.72 MB)
If you have difficulty accessing these files, please contact FRDC team for assistance.
Nineteen NCCP research papers (available for download from the FRDC website):
- 2016-153: Preparing for Cyprinid herpesvirus 3: A carp biomass estimate for eastern Australia
- 2018-120: Population dynamics and carp biomass estimates for Australia
- 2017-148: Exploring genetic biocontrol options that could work synergistically with the carp virus
- 2016-170: Development of hydrological, ecological and epidemiological modelling
- 2017-135: Essential studies on Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (CyHV-3) prior to release of the virus in Australian waters
- 2020-104: Evaluating the role of direct fish-to-fish contact on horizontal transmission of koi herpesvirus
- 2019-163 Understanding the genetics and genomics of carp strains and susceptibility to CyHV-3
- 2017-094: Review of carp control via commercial exploitation
- 2017-055 and 2017-056: Water-quality risk assessment of carp biocontrol for Australian waterways
- 2016-183: Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 and its relevance to humans
- 2017-127: Defining best practice for viral susceptibility testing of non-target species to Cyprinid herpesvirus 3
- 2019-176: Determination of the susceptibility of Silver Perch, Murray Cod and Rainbow Trout to infection with CyHV-3
- 2016-152 and 2018-189: The socio-economic impact assessment and stakeholder engagement
- 2017-237: Risks, costs and water industry response
- 2017-054: Social, economic and ecological risk assessment for use of Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (CyHV-3) for carp biocontrol in Australia
- 2016-158: Development of strategies to optimise release and clean-up strategies
- 2016-180: Assessment of options for utilisation of virus-infected carp
- 2017-104: The likely medium- to long-term ecological outcomes of major carp population reductions
- 2016-132: Expected benefits and costs associated with carp control in the Murray-Darling Basin
Five NCCP planning investigations (available for download from the FRDC website):
- 2018-112: Carp questionnaire survey and community mapping tool
- 2018-190: Biosecurity strategy for the koi (Cyprinus carpio) industry
- 2017-222: Engineering options for the NCCP
- NCCP Lachlan case study (in house) (refer to Technical Paper 9)
- 2018-209: Various NCCP operations case studies for the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems (refer to Technical Paper 8)
Questions about the NCCP document and technical papers, should be directed to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation .
For all other enquiries and next steps, please contact the DAFF NCCP team.