Thursday, September 16, 2010

Biosecurity Threatens Aquarium Industry

Australian aquarium hobbyists are outraged by recommendations made by Biosecurity Australia in its report on biosecurity risks related to the importation of ornamental fish.

The report recommends that all species of cichlid, all gouramis, all livebearer species (eg. guppies, mollies, swordtails and platies), all betta species (including siamese fighting fish and wild type bettas) and paradise fish must be batch tested on arrival in Australia. The batch testing methods employed will kill thousands of healthy fish needlessly. Fin clippings would yield sufficient cell material to complete the test, however most labs would not be set up to keep so many animals alive.

There are presently no commercial labs able to conduct this testing. It is anticipated that the cost of batch testing will be extremely high. A cost that will be borne by the importer (and ultimately the consumer) and will more than likely force all small importers out of business. This will decimate the aquarium industry and the fishkeeping hobby.

Aquarium hobbyists have always been strong advocates of responsible pet ownership and generally have a well-developed environmental and social conscience. Contrary to popular belief, Australian aquarium hobbyists are not entirely responsible for the release of non-native fish into native habitats. In the main these introductions have been carried out by the very government departments that one would expect to be more protective of local eco-systems. The introduction of trout, gambusia and the cane toad are all cases in point. Besides, these measures will do nothing (nor are they intended to) towards environmental protection. The purpose of these recommendations is to protect against the gourami iridovirus and related viruses. Viruses which may already be present in Australia.

Hobbyists would be all in favour of tighter quarantine controls if the scientific basis for those measures stood up to scrutiny. This report however is full of flawed assumptions and scientific inconsistencies, such as:
  • control fish testing positive to the virus, as well as the test sample
  • the unknown origin of the fish being tested ie whether or not they had been imported or locally bred
  • fish having lesions similar to the virus rather than the virus being positively identified
  • the lack of evidence that the virus is absent locally
  • the lack of research on the susceptibility of native fish to the virus
Further infuriating industry and community stakeholders is that the Import Risk Analysis Appeals Panel (IRAAP) has rejected all appeals which draw attention to the flawed science because it "does not consider matters relating to the scientific merits of the IRA or the merits of the recommendations made or the conclusions reached by Biosecurity Australia."

You can read more of the reactions from hobbyists in these forum threads:
AusAqua forum thread
AquariumLife forum thread

Please sign the online petition and help save the aquarium industry.