Questions and Answers

Import risk analysis report for orna​mental finfish with respect to gourami iridovirus and related viruses

Updated Questions and Answers – October 2010

Why is this import risk analysis (IRA) being undertaken?

The IRA has been undertaken in response to new information, including

  • research by the University of Sydney, has indicated possible changes to the understanding of gourami [pron. goo-ra-me] iridovirus and other iridoviruses associated with freshwater ornamental fish
  • gourami iridovirus was detected in gouramis sourced from Sydney pet shops – it is uncertain whether the infected fish were imported
  • a virus very similar to gourami iridovirus was linked to mortalities in locally farmed Murray cod in 2003
  • under experimental conditions, gourami iridovirus infected Murray cod causing disease and mortalities
  • under experimental conditions, gouramis were able to harbour the virus for periods greater than 28 days without showing clinical signs of disease – longer than the current combined pre-export and post-arrival quarantine periods.

What types of ornamental finfish are covered by the IRA?

The IRA covers:

  • the gourami family, such as dwarf gouramis, paradise fish and Siamese fighting fish
  • cichlids [pron. sick-lids], such as angelfish and oscars
  • poeciliids [pron. poy-e-sillids], such as guppies, mollies, platys and swordtails.

These are attractive ornamental fish comprising several species native to Asia and Africa, which are sought after aquarium fish.

What are Australia’s current quarantine requirements for ornamental fish?

All freshwater ornamental fish are subject to a minimum two weeks pre-export quarantine, certification that there are no signs of disease, inspection on arrival in Australia and a minimum one week post-arrival observation in quarantine approved premises. Gouramis and cichlids undergo a minimum two week post-arrival quarantine to manage iridovirus risks.

What is an IRA and how does it work?

An IRA is a regulated process that identifies and assesses risks posed by the pests and diseases relevant to an import proposal or importation. If those risks exceed Australia’s appropriate level of protection, the IRA specifies what measures should be taken to reduce those risks to an acceptable level. The IRA process is described in the Import Risk Analysis Handbook 2007 (update 2009), available on the Biosecurity Australia website.

The IRA involves releasing a draft IRA report for a 60-day stakeholder comment period, taking into account stakeholder comments into a provisional final IRA report. The provisional final IRA report – the final step in the regulated IRA process – is then published for a 30-day appeals period. Appeals are considered by the Import Risk Analysis Appeals Panel (IRAAP), which is independent of Biosecurity Australia.

After completion of the appeal process a recommendation is made to Australia’s Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine for an import policy determination.

What is the progress of the IRA for ornamental finfish?

The IRA commenced in September 2008 as a regulated standard IRA. A draft IRA report was released in March 2009 for public comment. Comments from 18 stakeholders were received. The provisional final IRA report which takes into account stakeholder comments was released in June 2010 for a 30 day appeal period. Stakeholders were provided with the opportunity to appeal if there was a significant deviation from the IRA process that adversely affected their interests. Eight submissions were received and the Chair of the IRAAP determined that the claims made in three submissions (containing seven claims) were worthy of further consideration by the IRAAP. On 7 October 2010, the IRAAP provided its findings to the Appellants and the Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine. The IRAAP disallowed the appeals or found the claims were outside the scope of the ground for appeal.

What are the next steps?

Biosecurity Australia will prepare a recommendation, based on the provisional final IRA, to Australia’s Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine for consideration of a policy determination.

What did the provisional final IRA report recommend?

The provisional final IRA report recommended additional quarantine measures, including:

  • sourcing fish from populations demonstrated to be free of megalocytiviruses (based on active surveillance); or
  • batch testing on arrival to show fish are free of megalocytiviruses.

As a result of these requirements, the report recommends the two-week post-arrival quarantine period for gouramis and cichlids be reduced to one week, consistent with the requirements for all other ornamental fish.

Will Australia be adequately protected from iridoviruses?

A comprehensive risk assessment of iridoviruses of quarantine concern has been undertaken and, where appropriate, risk management measures have been recommended. The assessment is based on the latest available scientific information and the recommended measures reflect Australia’s conservative approach to managing quarantine risks.

What are iridoviruses?

Iridoviruses are a group of DNA viruses that infect invertebrates (mainly insects) and cold-blooded vertebrates such as frogs and fish. Iridoviruses have been isolated from a range of marine and freshwater fish species, including ornamental species.

What are the clinical signs?

Iridoviruses have caused mortalities in gouramis, cichlids and poeciliids but more recent studies have shown that fish can be infected and not show clinical signs.

Does Australia import gouramis, cichlids and poeciliids?

Yes. These fish are very popular with aquarium owners and hobbyists. Large numbers are imported each year. They can be imported into Australia provided they meet Australia’s quarantine requirements and are on the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Art’s approved list for live animal imports.

How long have we been importing gouramis?

Australia has been importing ornamental finfish, including gouramis, for several decades. Quarantine regulations were first introduced in the 1980s and strengthened in 1999 following an IRA.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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