Introduced pests and diseases pose environmental, social and economic threats through damaging the natural balance of aquatic flora and fauna.
The Aquatic Biosecurity Unit is responsible for managing disease and pest issues affecting the aquaculture industry, in ornamental species and also for wild populations of fish and shellfish. Disease and pest threats are managed by implementing operational policies based on an assessment of the risks. Other factors which may impact on fish health, such as toxic algae outbreaks, are also monitored by the Aquatic Biosecurity Unit.
Health management of stock is a critical issue in the aquaculture industry, as a disease outbreak can devastate farmed populations and severely impact the short-term profitability or even long term viability of aquaculture businesses. Those who keep ornamental fish as a hobby also frequently confront disease issues, and need to be scrupulous in managing the health of their fish and preventing any diseases that do occur from spreading to other aquaria or even the wild through transfer of sick fish or contaminated water and equipment. Aquatic biosecurity assists these industries to manage disease by providing advice on good hygiene and biosecurity protocols, and by assisting businesses to investigate and manage disease outbreaks.
Outbreaks of disease also occur in the wild, where they can cause unsightly and unhealthy fish kills or even endanger populations of some native species. When disease is suspected to be the cause of a fish kill, the Aquatic Biosecurity Unit coordinates samples to be sent to the Department’s laboratory at Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute for diagnostic testing.
Introduced species of fish, invertebrates and plants can become established pests which compete with native species for food and habitat. Activities that increase the risk of translocating pest species include shipping, aquarium releases, contaminated aquaculture shipments, and deliberate illegal stockings. The Aquatic Biosecurity Unit implements policies and education programs to help prevent and control pest incursions, and for new and significant incursions the feasibility of eradication is considered.
A range of surveys and research projects are underway for introduced marine and freshwater pests in NSW, with data on distribution and population dynamics used to help manage these pests.