The Australian government’s plan for the biocontrol of the common carp presents several risks

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Belgian, English and Australian scientists are calling on the Australian authorities to review their decision to introduce the carp herpes virus as a way to combat the common carp having colonised the country’s rivers. In a letter published , they not only believe that this measure will be ineffective but that it also represents a risk to ecosystems.

On a global scale, the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) is one of the most important fish species in fish farming. Its annual production ranges between 4 and 5 million tonnes. Initially introduced to Australia for production in fish farms, the species has gradually colonised the rivers to the point of dominating the indigenous species. One of the methods proposed by the Australian government to reduce the number of carp is to release a virus which is deadly to this species, the cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (CyHV-3, also called the Koi herpesvirus or KHV) in rivers. However, scientists note that data currently available on the carp’s biology, the pathogeny of the virus and the ecology of Australian rivers suggests that this tactic will not be effective and could even represent a risk to ecosystems. It is thanks to Professor Alain Vanderplasschen ( FARAH research center ) from the University of Liège that the prestigious scientific review Science asked to issue a scientific opinion on the Australian biocontrol plan (1).

Before the large-scale release of the CyHV-3, which will be costly (the plan proposed has a budget of 18 million Dollars) and irreversible, assessments must be carried out on the virus’ actual capacity to sustainably reduce Australian carp populations living freely without harming the indigenous ecosystems.

The authors advocate for the introduction of limited testing to safely assess if the virus can effectively control carp populations without harming ecosystems.

The opinion of the scientists is notably based on work carried out for over a decade by Professor Alain Vanderplasschen from the Immunology and Vaccination Laboratory at the University of Liège who is behind the development of the first vaccine against CyHV-3.

"The discovery in our laboratory of the beneficial role of the behavioural fever expressed by carp as well as other recent results indicate that the Australian government’s biocontrol plan will not meet its objectives. This may even cause serious damage to the ecosystems", explains Professor Alain Vanderplasschen.

"By discussing this in Science, one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, we hope that the warning will not be ignored by the Australian authorities", notes Professor Alain Vanderplasschen.

About Professor Alain Vanderplasschen

Professor Alain Vanderplasschen is the Director of the Immunology and Vaccinology Laboratory at the University of Liège's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. He has been Director of Research at the Belgian National Scientific Research Foundation. His research concerns host-pathogen relationships in the animal world. In 2016, he was the first veterinary doctor to receive the GSK Vaccines award for his work on the carp herpes virus. This work lead to the development of original veterinary vaccines. Meeting considerable challenges, the carp is one of the main fish reared for human consumption in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It’s a real economic and nutritional pillar for millions of people worldwide. At present, the laboratory is also working on eels, a new research axis comprising many scientific and economic challenges.

Scientific reference

Biocontrol of invasive carp: Risks abound, Science, 23 February 2018, aar7827

Other reference

(1) Conserved Fever Pathways across Vertebrates: A Herpesvirus Expressed Decoy TNF-- Receptor Delays Behavioural Fever in Fish, Cell Host & Microbe, 8 February 2017,­om.2017.01.010