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Australia considers mass herpes release for population control

For fish. Nasty, invasive, foreign fish. Not people. Well, not yet

Australia is considering the widespread release of the herpes virus as part of a population control push.

The population the nation wants to control is the European Carp, an imported fish that thrives in local waterways and lakes because native animals don't compete for the food their bottom-feeding habits secure.

Some estimates suggest the fish now represent “90 per cent of the fish biomass (total weight of fish caught) in some areas” of Australia.

The species is blamed for a decline in water quality, which in turn makes it harder for plants to grow, which in turn reduces the environment available to other freshwater creatures and increases the likelihood of erosion.

Worst of all, the fish taste lousy and have few uses other than being shredded for fertiliser.

Enter the herpes virus, a variation of which has been trialled as a carp-killer with sufficient success that today an unlikely coalition of Australia's Conservation Foundation, Recreational Fishing Foundation, Farmers’ Federation, and the Irrigators' Council have all called for the wider release of carp herpes.

Testing of the virus has apparently found that it knocks off 70-100 per cent of carp, without impacting other species.

Australia has a long history of bad experiences with introduced species. Cane toads, introduced to clear sugar cane fields of pests, are rampant. Camels roam the outback. Foxes and rabbits have few local competitors.

The latter at least show that biological controls can make an impact: the myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (calicivirus) viruses have both made big dents in rabbit populations.

On the “what could possibly go wrong” side of the ledger is the possibility Australia could be on the threshold of creating a new breed of herpes-resistant uber-carp. And The Register, for one, welcomes our new bottom-feeding fishy masters. ®

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