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Caution needed – paua disease on our doorstep

29 November 2007

Caution needed – paua disease on our doorstep

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) is urging travellers to Australia to be mindful of a serious virus destroying abalone there and to take precautions to avoid inadvertently carrying it back to infect New Zealand paua.

‘Clean and dry’ is the best way to protect New Zealand paua, say MAFBNZ officials, as the virus appears to survive in damp gear.

The Abalone Virus Ganglioneuritis (AVG) is wiping out abalone in the Australian state of Victoria. It is expected to be generations before the abalone stocks on infected reefs begin to re-build.

MAFBNZ scientists say that while it’s not certain the herpes-like virus would affect New Zealand paua, there’s every indication it would, given paua is a member of the abalone family. If it established here, AVG would have a severe impact on commercial, customary and recreational fishing as well as tourism and export industries associated with paua.

MAFBNZ has strict border measures in place to prevent the virus jumping the Tasman and establishing in New Zealand shellfish. These include a range of border requirements, called Import Health Standards (IHS) which prohibit the importation of live abalone, require shells imported to be clean and dry, and require abalone for human consumption to be shelled and cooked (which destroys AVG). Further IHS’s require any equipment associated with the water (e.g. aquaculture implements, diving and fishing gear) to be clean and dry before it can enter New Zealand.

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MAFBNZ Director Border Standards Tim Knox says while he is confident that the current requirements in place are sufficient to keep AVG out of New Zealand, Kiwis returning from Victoria and Aussies coming here have a role to play in keeping the disease out by simply remembering the ‘clean and dry’ rule.

“It’s very important that if people have been swimming or diving on the Victorian coast, they ensure their togs, wetsuits and other diving or surfing gear are thoroughly washed and dried before bringing them home and hopping into New Zealand waters.

“It’s equally important that those who’ve been beach rambling in the area are aware their footwear should be clean and dry before returning home and that they avoid gathering shells. If they do wish to bring shells back to New Zealand, they must be free of any meat and thoroughly dry,” Mr Knox says.

“Most of all, people returning from Australia should make sure they declare on arrival that they’ve been using the Victorian coast and/or are carrying shells or gear for water activities in order that Biosecurity Inspectors can check that they are safe.”

MAFBNZ hopes people with friends and relatives in Victoria who are planning to visit New Zealand let them know of the paua virus concerns and spread the ‘clean and dry’ message.

ENDS

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