13 November 2022

ACT considers culling carp with biological weapon, but could we eat them instead?

| James Coleman
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Man holding carp

A carp caught in Lake Tuggeranong. Photo: Fishing Canberra.

Canberra’s pesky carp could be destined for extinction if a controversial virus gets the tick of approval.

The Australian Government first announced plans to release cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (or koi herpes virus, KHV) into a hot spot of the large and slimy fish in the Murray-Darling Basin in 2016.

The DNA-based virus has already been deployed in 33 countries and targets the species most prevalent in Australia, ‘common carp’ (Cyprinus carpio). Death occurs within 24 to 48 hours of exposure; those that survive remain infectious for the rest of their lives.

Australia’s plan to use it was knocked back in 2020 for fears millions of fish dying all at once would create more problems than it solved. But two years later and the $15 million ‘National Carp Control Plan’ (NCCP) has been handed down for all the states and territories to reconsider.

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The ACT Government’s Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) is reviewing the plan for local application, but it won’t be soon.

“We note the NCCP is not conclusive and proposes further work to be confident the virus is safe and effective before any release,” a spokesperson said.

“All jurisdictions and the Australian Government will need time to consider the NCCP before deciding whether or not to progress with the biological control program. EPSDD looks forward to being part of this process.”

While we wait, is there another way to curb the carp?

Boat on Lake Burley Griffin

Carp muddy the water while searching the sediment for food. Photo: James Coleman.

The thought might turn the stomach, but Canberra ecologist Danswell Starrs has attempted to catch and eat carp multiple times and holds out hope for the future.

“I find the bones particularly obnoxious – they’ve got these little Y-shaped bones that are really good at sticking into your mouth,” he says.

The bones aren’t the only problem. It’s also the taste, which has a lot to do with why carp are considered a pest in the first place.

Dan describes them as “ecosystem engineers”. That’s not a compliment.

“They’re bottom-feeders, so they fumble around the bottom, sucking up bugs and plant matter.”

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But in the process, they kick up sediment and muddy the whole water column. This provides algal blooms on the surface with plenty of nutrients, further destroying the water quality. Less and less sunlight then reaches the bottom, cutting out water plant growth.

“If the water is turbid and muddy, a whole range of issues kick off from that,” Dan says.

“Carp makes a bit of a mess, ecologically.”

Australia’s species are thought to have been introduced from Europe about 150 years ago but weren’t really a pest until the 1960s when they ended up in a Victorian fish farm and from there into the Murray-Darling Basin.

Canberra ecologist Danswell Starrs. Photo: Danswell Starrs.

“The prevailing understanding is they were accidentally introduced to Lake Burley Griffin when it was stocked with native fish soon after it was filled in 1964,” Dan explains.

“Unfortunately, many of these tank loads of little native fish came from the Murray Darling basin and were contaminated with carp.”

Conditions were good, so numbers exploded. Dan says that by weight, “they’re quite likely to be the dominant species” in Lake Burley Griffin.

There has been no shortage of attempts to get on top of them, but there’s still no silver bullet.

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The Canberra Fisherman’s Club hosts annual ‘Canberra Carp-Out’ competitions to remove carp from local lakes while raising funds to buy native fish fingerlings to replace them.

“It’s a very easy pastime for children and families to go out and catch carp – they’re very easy to catch,” Dan says.

But the reality is, it’s a drop in the ocean. So what if we ate them?

This is when catching becomes an art because carp release histamine when stressed which charges the meat with a muddy, dirty taste. They must be caught, killed and iced as quickly as possible to avoid this.

“I’ve tried multiple ways, including keeping them in clean water tanks to purge some of that muddy flavour out,” Dan says.

“Unfortunately, none really worked.”

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Other cultures appreciate carp for its protein more than anything and grind it up and lace it with herbs and spices to mask the flavour. Dan says we might have to take a similar approach.

“We Anglo-Australians are very used to catching fish from the coast and just preparing it and eating it the way it is … But we do need to diversify where our meat comes from and maybe carp could be part of that solution.”

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Chalie Carp is a great garden fertilizer, especially for roses. It would be better to reduce carp numbers by turning them into commercial fertilizer, than trying to persuade people to eat the muddy tasting things. I would not trust scientists being let loose to develop another virus.

Brendan Moran2:42 pm 15 Nov 22

I had understood that due to heavy metal contamination of sediment in LBG, from upstream gold mining, carp caught there were not safe to eat

Seeing what a virus can do the past 2.5 years, I’m not very keen on the idea of releasing another virus. How about fertiliser instead?

Carp should not be eaten unless in a survival situation. It’s better off being used as garden fertiliser or bait for fishing (great for catching snapper and kingfish from a kayak).

The virus release needs to be supported by other eradication programs because some carp will survive & pass on their immunity. It will be a repeat of the rabbit programs.

Victor Bilow2:03 pm 13 Nov 22

Canberra ecologist Danswell Starrs, proudly bearing a freshly caught trout. Most unusual trout

Capital Retro5:44 pm 13 Nov 22

Probably one that has been mutated by climate change. It is neither a brown or rainbow variety either. Trout are exotic fish and they should be eradicated along with carp.

My family from western NSW have long eaten larger carp from relatively clean water. We just eat the whiter flesh, and add flavour lemon juice, vineger etc.. Eat ASAP. Not the nicest, but better than older “fresh” fruit.

You’re braver than me geoffa!! Go for it!

Should be OK, nothing could go wrong…….right?

Jamie Bishop11:38 am 13 Nov 22

James I’m disappointed that you infer this dangerous virus idea is still being planned …. the original proposal was a community consultation and discussion – not “government plans to release.” … Reporting only on what one “non chef” has to say about how carp is hard to prepare is a bit lazy? Why don’t you follow up with an article on the great advantages ecologically managing the carp problem rather than inferring that this extremely dangerous virus release is even being considered which is of great concern. Noted authority and commercial fishermen Glen Hill of Coorong Wild Seafood is worth speaking to! Amazing product that’s roaring!
http://www.coorongwildseafood.com.au/

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