View Full Version : Recfish Aust Submission on Pilchards/Slimies

25-02-2002, 07:06 PM
Recfish Aust Vice-President Graham Pike presented a submission to an AQIS conference in Adelaide on Feb 20.

The submission was on the impact of the importation of diseased Californian Pilchards and the harvesting of Slimie Mackerel.

As the submission is too long to be posted on this board, please email me & I will email asap a copy of the submission.

Graeme Creed

26-02-2002, 07:59 PM
Copy of submission below -


The threat to Australia's multi-billion dollar recreational and sport fishing industry from VHSV in Californian pilchards and mackerel

Graham Pike
Recfish Australia

The background to this submission is best summarised by an item in the January 2002 issue of Biosecurity News, the magazine of AFFA's Biosecurity Australia division.
The item states simply: "Biosecurity Australia has alerted State and Territory fishing authorities and the fishing and aquaculture industries to a virus that has been found in pilchards and mackerel in California. The viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus (VHSV) is responsible for the serious disease, viral haemorrhagic septicaemia, and could be a serious threat to fish stocks if it established in Australia. 'Its recent discovery in Californian pilchards and mackerel may have significant implications for Australia's biosecurity policies', said Biosecurity Australia's Aquatic Unit manager, Dr Peter Beers. 'It is therefore essential we review our current import policies to ensure adequate protection is being provided to fisheries resources, aquaculture and the environment.' (Biosecurity Australia, Jan 2002, p. 3)

There wouldn't be a problem, of course, if these Californian pilchards and mackerel were not imported into Australia but they currently are - 50,000 tonnes of them last year alone and a quarter of a million tonnes since the mid-1990s. The vast bulk of those tonnages are used as commercial tuna farm feed and much smaller quantities for bait for the lobster, longlining and recreational fisheries.

Recfish Australia believes, as Biosecurity Australia also does, that VHSV is not present in Australia, that we have, somewhat miraculously I would say, so far escaped importing this fish-killing virus into our marine and fresh waters. However, you do have to ask yourself whether, despite the lack of positive identification of VHSV in Australian samples, the large pilchard kills, apparently caused by VHSV in British Columbia, Canada, in February 1998 and the massive subsequent kills in Australia in April 1998, were a coincidence.

But with every batch of pilchards and mackerel from Pacific North America now comes an increased threat, a very high risk that VHSV is hitching a ride. To quote Biosecurity Australia's Summary of Technical Information on this issue (Biosecurity Australia, Feb 2002, section 6.5): "It may well be that the virus has not established simply because suitable (water) temperatures have not occurred since 1998 but there may be historical data to suggest that current conditions will not last and that cooler more suitable temperatures may occur." I also note that the same paper indicates that water temperatures in Tasmania, for example, are in fact conducive to VHSV for substantial periods of each year.

The Biosecurity Australia technical information paper also makes it clear that if VHSV were to get loose in Australian waters it could affect a much wider range of our finfish than just Australian pilchards and our Blue or Slimy mackerel which are already known to be susceptible. The Biosecurity Australia paper says: "Given the very broad host range of marine VHSV in the Northern Hemisphere, one would expect there to be several additional host species of finfish in Australian waters". (Biosecurity Australia, Feb 2002, section 6.4) Given the history of the occurrences of various strains of VHSV overseas and the fish kills they have caused, it is entirely possible that the virus's introduction to Australia would severely threaten not only our marine finfish, but our freshwater species as well, both native fish and introduced salmonids, several of which are catadromous.

What's at stake?

Australia has a huge and highly valuable - both economically and socially - recreational and sport fishing industry. Recfish Australia is the peak national body that represents the interests of Australia's 5.5 million recreational and sport fishers whose activities make up that industry.
Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Australia (AFFA) and AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) already know the value of recreational and sport fishing in this country. The data were provided to AFFA and AQIS in a report they commissioned from Dominion Consulting Pty Ltd in 1999, entitled A National Review of the Recreational Fishing Sector. (Dominion Consulting, 1999)

I'll quote some of the vast amount of pertinent information contained in that report. In 1998 terms, the national annual expenditure on recreational and sport fishing was conservatively estimated to be $2.926 billion - that's $2,926 million. A higher percentage of that expenditure occurs in rural areas than in capital cities.

Seventy-three per cent of recreational and sport fishing activity is in saltwater and 27 per cent in freshwater. Seventy-five per cent of catch by weight is finfish. Recreational and sport fishing expenditure on finfish is about $2,189 billion ($2,189 million) a year. Annual expenditure on the salmonid component of the sport and recreational fishery is estimated at $243 million and the gamefishing component $300 million.

Employment from recreational and sport fishing is estimated at about 43,000 jobs nationally.

The Dominion consulting report estimates a 1998 present value loss of $1.025 billion ($1,025 million) on total collapse of all salmonid recreational fishing expenditure nationally owing to disease impacting over a five-year period.

The report also says that a significant disease outbreak in estuarine and coastal marine species popular with recreational fishers may cause national expenditure to fall. "Perceptions of a demise in recreational fishing may lead to reductions in travel to sites (up to 40 per cent of annual national expenditure on recreational and sport fishing), accommodation (9 per cent of national expenditure) and deferring or abandoning the purchase of new capital items such as boats, cars and equipment (30 per cent of national expenditure)".

A national disease episode, the report says, where all recreational fishers thought their chances of catching fish in salt water were reduced by 20 per cent, may translate into a reduction of around 20 per cent in marine finfish expenditure. That would mean a reduction in recreational and sport fishing annual expenditure of about $437.8 million, not to mention the cost to jobs, rural areas and social aspects.

To answer the question I asked earlier about what's at stake if we find VHSV in our Australian fish stocks, it's perfectly clear that from a recreational and sport fishing industry perspective alone, the stakes are very high indeed.

Risk factors and other issues

The world organisation for animal health, the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), lists VHSV as a notifiable disease and VHSV has previously been found in North American (British Columbian) Pacific pilchard populations. The OIE also recommends using pre-import evisceration (gutting) as a risk management measure to be used by VHSV-free countries (such as Australia) when importing susceptible finfish species. Importantly, the OIE says that fish which are not eviscerated are required to be sourced from VHSV-free countries/zones, with attendant health certification requirements.

Australia's imports of pilchards and mackerel from California are of whole round fish. They are not eviscerated.

Why is Australia apparently not following the OIE recommendations, particularly as AQIS in 1999 found " the likelihood of VHSV entry/establishment through imported whole round marine finfish and associated consequences sufficiently high to warrant risk management". (Biosecurity Australia, Feb 2002, para 8.2)

Further, "The importation of whole round 'specified' species is generally banned, unless the importer can make a compelling case that the use of the product in Australia can be controlled with a high degree of certainty and that this use does not pose an unacceptable risk" (Biosecurity Australia, Feb 2002, section 8.2)

Why, then, are we continuing to import whole round Californian pilchards and mackerel?

Given these factors, it is difficult to now accept that the current AQIS risk management strategy for the importation of whole round Californian pilchards and mackerel can control the risk of VHSV introduction to a high level of certainty, particularly considering the following points:

The large tonnages imported each year to feed farmed tuna in cages floating in open waters and the use of albeit much smaller but nevertheless widely dispersed quantities for commercial and recreational fishing bait.

VHSV survives freezing well and would survive the thawing process sufficiently long to infect local fish populations.

Water temperatures around the tuna farms at Port Lincoln are not high enough to eliminate the risk of introduction, particularly if upwelling events occur and reduce water temperatures in autumn as occurred in 1998.

The monitoring and surveillance procedures that are followed by AQIS on imported Californian pilchards since the massive pilchard kills of 1995 and 1998 may not detect infected animals given researcher R.M. Kocan's view that (similar) current methodology would have a low chance of detecting the VHSV virus in Pacific herring - ie. the virus could be there in significant levels and not be detected. (Biosecurity Australia, Feb 2002)

The possibility that despite the lack of positive identification of VHSV in Australian samples, the large pilchard kills recorded in British Columbia, Canada, in February 1998 and the massive subsequent kills in Australia in April 1998 were more than a coincidence.

The fact that imported fish can carry VHSV but not show clinical symptoms, making disease detection difficult and costly and casting doubt on the validity of 'disease-free' certification from exporting countries.

The statement in the Technical Summary by Brian Jones of Western Australian Fisheries that the current approach taken by AQIS to permit importation from regions where particular disease agents have not been reported, poses additional quarantine risks because product may be sourced from unsurveyed populations.

Associated issues

Recfish Australia has previously expressed concern at meetings of the Commonwealth Fish Health Management Committee (FHMC), on which it is represented, that the absence of a requirement in Australia to label recreational fishing bait bags and containers to show whether they contain local or imported product militates against quarantine and domestic disease control and increases the risk of the rapid spread of fish diseases.

The point is that if bait suppliers were required to clearly label bait bags and containers according to whether their contents were imported or produced domestically, recreational fishers could decide for themselves between presumably disease-free and therefore low risk Australian product and an imported product which clearly carries a much higher disease-carrying risk.

Such clear and accurate labelling of bait would also expedite faster and more precise domestic disease control and tracking in the event of a quarantine alert following the detection of disease in imported product already landed. A case in point is the detection last year of White spot disease in batches of imported prawns, some of which were destined for the Australian bait market. In the absence of bait labelling, it was impossible to warn Recfish Australia's five and a half million constituents to avoid imported product until the all clear was given by the Commonwealth. Without labelling there was simply no point - as things stood, and still stand, our anglers are unable to tell the difference between imported and domestic sourced bait.

While informal surveys indicate that Australian anglers prefer to buy Australian product, there remains a need to have them fully informed when making bait purchasing choices.

Recfish Australia has also proposed at FHMC meetings that the Commonwealth should utilise our good offices and our capacity to deliver programs and information specifically targeted at the nearly one-third of the Australian population that fishes each year. With adequate Commonwealth funding for the purpose, we could design and implement a program, in full liaison with AQIS and Biosecurity Australia, to make our army of anglers an informed and substantial front line of detection and defence against fish diseases. Recfish Australia remains open and ready to work with the Commonwealth to realise such an initiative as well as to assist the Commonwealth in any other practical ways to minimise fish disease risks and enhance disease control measures.

Finally, it is imperative that the Commonwealth works with Recfish Australia in the normal course of events, in always ensuring that we receive timely and complete information and warnings about fish diseases, threats and incidents. We believe that this has not always happened in the past but it is essential in future if we are to protect the vast socio-economic benefits generated by our recreational and sport fishing industry for all Australians.

Summary and recommendations

Recfish Australia is strongly of the view that the apparent current shortcomings in relevant Commonwealth policy and fish import/quarantine/risk minimisation practices, the risks of disease introduction associated with the importation of Californian pilchards and mackerel, and the consequent potential for social and economic disaster, is unacceptable.

This is particularly so given the continued use of large tonnages of these imported fish as aquaculture feed in sea cages. The use of all imported fish products in aquaculture operations needs to be stringently reviewed with a view to early and complete prohibition because (i) of the much greater chances of infection that exist in this type of operation and (ii) the availability of manufactured feed which is already being used in intensive tuna farming operations. With the availability and success of this manufactured feed in South Australian tuna farming operations, there is no longer any need to use wild caught baitfish species such as pilchards and mackerel.

In summary, Recfish Australia recommends the banning of all imports of pilchards and mackerel from VHSV affected areas, including such imports destined for the recreational and commercial fishing bait markets, until such time as the Commonwealth implements policies, processes and practices which meet or exceed OIE risk management standards. It is understood there is sufficient capacity in Australia to supply domestic product for recreational and commercial bait.

The AQIS corporate slogan is 'protecting our way of life'. The time is now for that protection of our fishing industries to occur.

ver.revised final


Biosecurity Australia, Jan 2002: Biosecurity Australia news, Vol 1, No 3, January 2002, Biosecurity Australia, Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Australia, Canberra

Biosecurity Australia, Feb 2002: Policy review of fish importation resulting from the discovery of viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus (VHSV) in pilchards (Sardinops sagax) and mackerel (Scomber japonicus) from Californian waters: Summary of Technical Information, Biosecurity Australia, AFFA, Canberra, February 2002-02-13

Dominion Consulting, 1999: A National Review of the Recreational Fishing Sector - A Report to Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia, McIlgorm, A and Pepperell, J, Dominion Consulting Pty Ltd, Hurstville, NSW, 1999

27-02-2002, 03:29 PM
That's a scary read Steve. You won't see this stuff on the 6 o'clock news, and it should be. >:(

Dead set right about labeling though. Everything else has the product country of origin, why not our bait. Sure, it has the wholesalers name, but where did they get it from ?

I think it's the old train of thought, that's no ones' got the guts to do something, in case they are seen to rock the boat. Let things as they are. And that's crap.

We are the Lucky Country, let's keep it that way and DO something positive. Let's support Recfish in its drive. :)