Australia plans to release the herpes virus into its main river system to kill millions of carp despite concerns that the so-called “carpageddon” could fill the waterways with rotting fish.
The plan follows calls by farmers, environmentalists and scientists who have urged authorities to address a “plague” of European carp which has infested the 2,300-mile Murray-Darling river system in eastern Australia.
The carp, which are large and notoriously ugly, consume native fish but also churn up mud and make it hard for other marine life to feed or breathe.
Chris Pyne, the federal science minister, said the introduction of the virus would begin in 2018 and will wipe out about 95 per cent of the carp.
Authorities plan to use a specially-developed strain of the virus which does not kill other marine life.
But Mr Pyne admitted that the government has yet to decide precisely what to do with all the dead fish.
“Suddenly, there will be literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tons of carp that will be dead in the River Murray,” he said.
“We have to have a clean-up program… We need to have legislative changes potentially. There’s obvious talk about whether the carp could be used for fertiliser, 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.”
The river system is believed to have up to two million tons of carp, which cause about £260 million worth of damage each year.
Despite concerns about the clean-up, the mass kill was largely welcomed.
“They are an unattractive oily fish with heavy scales and whiskers, and, left unchecked, they grow to a very large size,” said an editorial in South Australia’s Sunday Mail newspaper.
“They are hardy and omnivorous and consume everything in their wake… There seems to be nothing good about them.”
However, some fishermen and local tourism businesses expressed concern about the potential mess.
“I think a river full of dead carp is not going to be fantastic for business,” Robert Hughes, houseboat operator, told ABC News.
The carp were first brought to Australia about a century ago and were apparently admired as more exotic than other native fish, but their numbers quickly grew after they escaped from dams into rivers in the 1960s.
Describing the mass infection as “carpageddon”, Mr Pyne, a notoriously brash MP who is often referred to as Australia’s most annoying politician, was swiftly mocked by fellow politicians over the scheme.
“I congratulate Christopher Pyne on his plan to give herpes to carp,” said Nick Xenophon, an independent MP.