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Let’s Give Them Herpes

By Pascal Geraghty on March 17, 2016 in Other

Photo: Daniel Coddom

Photo: Daniel Coddom

Get yourself out to Centennial Park. Pack the family, some ham and cheese sandwiches, find some shade, lay out the picnic rug and maybe toss a few crusts the way of the peckish poultry floating on the ponds. If you do, you’ll quickly discover that Daffy and his mates are paddling above a seething, writhing mass of carp that rise from the murky depths to join in the feast.

Like many of us, these carp originally lobbed out here from Europe. Think the influx and subsequent explosion of Italians and Greeks, but rather than bringing delicious cuisine, gelati, hairy backs and hot women, carp have contributed absolutely nothing but damage and disaster.

Their ability to multiply at alarming rates and to live happily in even the most degraded of environments has seen European carp (Cyprinus carpio) rapidly overpopulate some of Australia’s most iconic freshwater ecosystems. Not only do they out-compete our humble, native fish for food and space, their destructive bottom-feeding habits upset the ecological balance of the surrounding waters, making them virtually unliveable for everything else.

This is not the first time an introduced species has wreaked havoc on the native inhabitants and environment here in Australia, though. Cast your mind back to 1788 when white man bundled through Sydney Heads and set up shop on the hill. The carp issue is simply history repeating.

European or common carp truly are an invasive, noxious, feral pest; a worse pest than even Kyle Sandilands and Osher Gunsberg, and on par with Alan Jones. So what can we do to eradicate pests like these? The fish, that is. You infect them with herpes. Not the burning, blistered ring-piece variety dispensed by the town bicycle, though. This calls for the strong stuff; a lethal strain.

Our friends at the CSIRO have recently been looking into the use of a specific herpes virus, known as Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (CyHV-3), as a biocontrol agent. Their research indicates that CyHV-3 could significantly reduce the number of carp in our river systems. The virus kills carp and kills them fast. Most importantly, too, CyHV-3 has been shown to pose no danger to a broad range of key native fish and invertebrate species, as well as having no effect on some common birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. As for us humans, the virus had no negative effect on mice, so we should be right.

It’s important that we recognise the damage that Cyprinus carpio is causing to our freshwater fish, aquatic plant and invertebrate communities. The size and extent of the problem leaves no doubt that decisive, and creative, measures need to be taken sooner rather than later. This herpes virus may just be the ticket.

And for us, the addition of another player in the otherwise packed herpes market is potentially good news. If you’re diagnosed with herpes you just never know, it might turn out to be CyHV-3. You’re going to want to hope it is, anyway. But how you contracted it? I’d be keeping that to myself.