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Friday, February 13, 2015

13/02/2015: Lethal testing for viruses in ornamental fish postponed after complaints by pet industry

The Australian aquarium industry is celebrating a small win as the Department of Agriculture delays the introduction of new highly criticised testing for imported ornamental fish, ABC News reports.

On Thursday the department emailed the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) announcing the new requirements that were due to come into effect on March 1 would be postponed for one year.

The proposed requirements stipulated fish belonging to the gourami, cichlid and poeciliid families - which include Siamese fighting fish, paradise fish and angelfish - must be tested for a subgroup of Megalocytivirus called gourami iridovirus prior to export to Australia.
 

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-13/virus-testing-for-ornamental-fish-delayed-after-backlash/6090946

Currently the only option for testing is called batch testing in which a sample from each shipment of fish is killed then tested for the virus.

If the tested fish are clear, the remainder will be released for shipment.

Chris Rout, the owner of Boronia Aquarium, says prices will rise dramatically or fish simply will not be ordered when the changes take effect.

He says this will lead to considerable degradation of the quality of fish in Australia and fewer exotic species available.

He says many Australians are now at risk of losing their jobs as aquarium keepers due to the new regulations.

"If things get really bad we will have to close," Mr Rout said.

"If the Government decided they were going to kill half of every litter of kittens to see if they had cat flu, there would be a huge public uproar.

"There should be the same concern for our fish."

Australia is the only country to require lethal testing for a virus for aquarium fish, says veterinarian Dr Robert Jones.

Batch testing is based on statistics. For example, if you want to import 20 fish, 19 will need to be killed and if they test negative, the remaining one can be imported.

For 100 fish to be imported, 43 to 67 will need to be killed. For 1000 fish to be imported, 55 to 136 will need to be killed.

Initial estimates suggest each batch test, no matter what species of fish, will cost the wholesaler $2000 to conduct, making fish four times as expensive for consumers, Dr Jones said.

The department's spokesperson said they were aware batch testing was cost-prohibitive and impractical, which was why they encouraged exporting countries to conduct source population surveillance which takes more time to establish.

"We have received information that a laboratory in one of the exporting countries has initiated a research project to develop a suitable non-lethal testing for health certification purposes," the spokesperson said.

"The department is also encouraging the development of other testing methods, for example gill tissue biopsy and faecal sampling."

However Dr Jones says alternatives like gill biopsies are difficult to implement on ornamental fish due to some species being only three centimetres in length.
Delayed implementation

The department said they decided to delay the new import conditions due to requests from international trading partners and the Australian aquarium industry which expressed concerns about establishing new laboratory testing and potential disruption in trade.

Dr Jones says the PIAA, of which he is a board member, is delighted about the one-year extension after lengthy campaigning.

"The period of implementation was just too short as the testing had to be set up by overseas countries," Dr Jones said.

He said six months' notice of these offshore testing requirements was not enough time for the five main countries - Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

"If the new testing had started on March 1, the aquarium industry would have almost come to a halt."

Within the next 12 months, the department is asking ornamental importers to take part in on-arrival trials by providing fish samples to test for gourami iridovirus.

The department will pay all costs associated with laboratory testing and importers will be able to find out which exporters are sending fish that are free of gourami iridovirus.

Importers are also urged to tell the department how the new conditions could affect their business so conditions to minimise financial impacts may be considered.
 
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-13/virus-testing-for-ornamental-fish-delayed-after-backlash/6090946

For example, if the tests suggest low risk associated with a particular exporter sample sizes may be adjusted.
Risk of disease outbreak

Many campaigning against these testing measures argued gourami iridovirus did not present a high enough risk as it was not recognised as a disease of significance by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

"The risk is minimal. We are the only country in the world that is worried about it," Dr Jones said.

"Testing done in the past six months indicated a lower level of infection than what was expected."

There has only been one outbreak of gourami iridovirus which was in 2003 on a Victorian Murray cod farm due to the illegal practice of feeding gourami fish to the broodstock, combined with inappropriately high water temperature which induced heat stress, leaving the Murray cod more susceptible to disease.

Although the virus did not escape the farm and was fully contained, the outbreak prompted the Government's current testing requirements.

"There has never been a serious disease outbreak in Australian native fish in our waterways due to the importation of aquarium fish into Australia," Dr Jones said.

The Department of Agriculture said that although most ornamental fish never have contact with the wild environment, the risk of potential contact meant the virus was identified as a significant biosecurity threat which as a World Trade Organisation (WTO) member they were entitled to protect against.


Read the article HERE.

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