Australia postpones killer tests on aquarium fish


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The implementation of batch testing on aquarium livestock, to ensure they are disease free before being imported into Australia, has been postponed.

The proposed requirements stipulated that fish from the gourami, cichlid and poeciliid families had to be batch tested for gourami iridovirus prior to export to Australia. The tests were due to begin from March this year, but the Department of Agriculture has announced that they would be postponed until March 1, 2016.

Such tests would see the deaths of thousands of healthy fish, as they cannot be carried out on live specimens. Batch testing would involve taking a sample of fish from each shipment to be killed and tested, and only if those tests proved clear would the remaining fish be imported. As batch testing is based on statistics, for every 100 fish to be imported, 43 to 67 would need to be killed for testing, while for every 1000 fish, 55 to 136 fish would be killed.

According to a report in ABC news, it's been estimated that every batch test could cost the wholesaler $2,000, leading to fish on the list becoming four times as expensive to buy. There are concerns by those in Australia's aquarium industry that the fish on the list might even cease to be imported as a result of the tests and there could be many job losses within the trade.

Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA), which led a campaign against the tests said: "The current import system is effective because up to 20 million fish are imported into Australia every year and surely by now if there was a potential for a disease outbreak it would have occurred. Aquarium fish are generally a dead end for disease transmission with no contact with the wild environment. Most fish owners are responsible and therefore, any fish that die are placed into the rubbish bin or are buried in the ground. Hence, direct contact with waterways is very limited."

The PIAA said it was delighted that the Department of Agriculture had decided to delay the implementation of the new requirements. Veterinarian Dr Robert Jones, who is a PIAA board member, told ABC news:

"The period of implementation was just too short as the testing had to be set up by overseas countries". These include Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

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

Over the next year importers of ornamental fish will be asked to take part in on-arrival trials by providing fish samples to test for gourami iridovirus. The Department of Agriculture has said it will pay the costs associated with laboratory testing and importers will be able to find out which are the highest risk areas and which exporters are sending fish that are free of the virus.

The Department of Agriculture said that although most aquarium fish will never have contact with natural waterways, the potential meant the virus was a significant biosecurity threat which, as a World Trade Organisation (WTO) member, it was entitled to protect against.

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