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Why do we let these ‘rabbits’ destroy our rivers?

Australia needs more action to address the environmental damage caused by European carp.

This damage has been more evident following recent flooding, which has rapidly accelerated carp breeding, according to the community-based Speak Up Campaign.

It has been advocating for many years on the need to improve water management, and says part of the national strategy needs to be controlling European carp numbers.

“We are seeing damage across our river systems following the explosion of carp numbers,” Speak Up deputy chair Lloyd Polkinghorne said. “We are receiving constant complaints about water quality from those who live and breathe our waterways, with carp being largely blamed.

“They are known as ‘rabbits of the river’. But unlike when we had rabbit plagues last century and there was significant government effort to control the problem, with carp it seems to be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. For the sake of our river environments this attitude needs to change,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

Earlier this year, Speak Up highlighted the damage being caused by European carp in a letter to NSW Environment Minister James Griffin. Mr Polkinghorne said they were disappointed when he responded by highlighting benefits of flooding, which he said “outweigh the negative impacts of a temporary increase in carp numbers”.

“The response suggests there is a failure by the Minister to fully appreciate the environmental damage from European carp. They are not a ‘temporary’ problem; they have been a serious problem for decades that has not been appropriately addressed,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

He added the carp problem had recently been raised in The Guardian by freshwater ecologist Adam Kerezsy, who highlighted the recent explosion in numbers and asked: “So what is being done, and what can be done, about such an obvious and serious environmental problem?” He answered the question with: “The simple answer is, unfortunately, not much.”

He added there was “enough evidence to know that carp will multiply in their billions every time suitable conditions exist” and acknowledged “there’s no magic bullet and no easy solution, but it’s time to get serious about dealing with this problem”.

“If our state’s Environment Minister or his department will not listen to community groups like Speak Up, surely they will listen to experienced river scientists who know the damage that carp are causing,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

“In the 20th century our governments recognised the environmental damage from rabbits, at a time when protecting our environment was not on the political radar like it is today. Yet in 2023 we are prepared to spend billions of dollars trying to protect river systems, but we allow them to be destroyed by an introduced pest and governments do virtually nothing about it.

“That makes no sense. We need to recognise the problem and address it,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

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