Australia to fight fish invasion with herpes

European carp stranded in a billabong near Murrumbidgee River, New South Wales (Getty)
European carp stranded in a billabong near Murrumbidgee River, New South Wales (Getty)

Australia has announced plans to unleash the herpes virus on its fast-growing European carp population.

Science Minister Christopher Pyne has labelled it "carp-ageddon".

"It affects the European carp by attacking their kidneys, their skin, their gills and stopping them breathing effectively," he told local media.

"They have the virus for a week before they show any symptoms and it suddenly kills them within 24 hours."

Mr Pyne says the European carp is a "nasty pest" which accounts for more than 80 percent of fish biomass in the Murray-Darling basin, which covers a large area in New South Wales and southern Queensland.

It's estimated the economic impact of the carp, mostly along the Murray River, is $544 million annually.

"Anyone who loves the Murray knows what damage the carp have caused to the river environment over many years," says Mr Pyne. "The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and the CSIRO have made significant progress evaluating a viral biological control agent, we know that it works, we know it's completely safe, now we need to plan the best way to roll it out."

Conservationists have welcomed the initiative, the Australian Conservation Foundation calling it a "good first step".

The $16.3 million eradication will take place in 2018. Most of the cost would go towards getting rid of the disease-ridden fish carcasses.

"There will be literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tonnes of carp that will be dead in the River Murray," says Mr Pyne.

It's hoped the virus will kill at least 95 percent of carp in the waterways over the next three decades.