Marine, freshwater and island environmental biosecurity issues
This chapter considers some specific environmental biosecurity issues
that were raised during the committee's inquiry relating to marine and freshwater
aquatic biosecurity, and the biosecurity of islands.
This chapter also considers proposed alterations to the governance of
marine biosecurity contained in the Biosecurity Bill 2014.
The recent CSIRO report, Australia's Biosecurity Future, outlined
the current marine biosecurity environment:
The invasion of marine ecosystems by non-indigenous species
continues to increase and the control and eradication of invasive marine
species is both technically and financially difficult. Each year, more than
11,000 vessels from 600 overseas ports visit Australia’s 65 major ports.
Globally, it is estimated that more than 3,000 organisms are transported in
ballast water every day. Of these, 494 species are known to be established in
Australian waters, including 156 that are native, 129 that are non-native and
209 that are of unknown origin. However, it is likely that as few as five to
eight of these pests are of real concern.
The Department of Agriculture stated that Australia has over 250
introduced marine species and that, although most of these species have little
impact, 'some, including several crabs, mussels, seastars and seaweeds, have
become aggressive pests in some locations.'
Several submitters and witnesses identified biosecurity in the marine
environment as an issue of concern.
The Invasive Species Council cited information from the Department of
Invasive species are major threats to Australia's marine
biodiversity. Australian waters already have an estimated 250 introduced
species, another 230 cryptogenic species (whose origins are uncertain but are
considered likely to be exotic) and 6 native species dispersed beyond their
native range. It is estimated that an additional average 3 to 4 species
establish in Australian waters each year.
CSIRO submitted that it undertook a prioritisation of marine pests in
2005 and the resultant invasion database included:
1582 marine and estuarine species that have been transported
by human-mediated activities or have human-mediated invasion histories around
the world. 207 of these species do not have a known invasion history but have
been reported in either ballast water (128), hull fouling (50) samples, or on
another vector (29). 494 of the species are known to be established in
Australian waters of which: 156 are native; 129 are non-native; and 209 are
cryptogenic. Almost 300 of the species in the database are known to be absent
from Australian waters, whereas the establishment status in Australia of the
remaining 789 species is uncertain.
Submitters pointed out that, with increases in shipping, the risk of marine
invasions also rises.
Mr Michael McMullan, Acting Director-General of the Western Australian
Department of Fisheries, told the committee that containment of aquatic pests
and diseases is 'highly problematic' as they are often found in open systems
To have any chance of preventing establishment, aquatic pest
or disease incursions must be dealt with at the earliest stages of arrival.
Indeed, to date, there has been no successful eradication of an established
marine pest anywhere in the world.
Coordination and consultation in
relation to marine biosecurity
In 2005, the Australian, state and Northern Territory Governments agreed
to develop, implement and maintain a National System for the Prevention and
Management of Marine Pest Incursions (National Marine Pest System). The Marine
Pest Sectoral Committee (MPSC) is responsible for the development,
implementation and review of the National System.
The Committee's membership is as follows:
...two representatives from the Australian Government and one
government representative from each state and the Northern Territory. Members
come from the agency with responsibility for marine pest issues within each
jurisdiction but bring a whole of government position to MPSC discussions.
The committee has three observers based on
technical/scientific expertise. New Zealand is a standing observer on MPSC.
Prevention measures under the National Marine Pest System are focused on
managing risks in three distinct areas: ballast water; biofouling; and the
With regard to the National Marine Pest System, Ports Australia
submitted that engagement with both industry and environment groups is limited:
Notwithstanding the policies and guidelines put in place for
marine pests by the Commonwealth, engagement with the shipping and ports
industries is somewhat perfunctory. The Marine Pest Sectoral Committee (MPSC)
is the body responsible for the national system and is comprised of
representatives from the Australian Government, each state government and the
Northern Territory. Industry and environment groups have been sidelined into an
“industry consultation group”.
Ports Australia also noted that marine pest incursions are managed under
the NEBRA, which it submitted has 'fairly weak wording', has not been
legislated and 'therefore has no teeth' and is 'fairly easy to circumvent'.
The committee also received evidence arguing that, despite the existence
of the National Marine Pest System, there is still considerable inconsistency
across Australian jurisdictions in the approach to marine pests. For example, Shipping
Australia expressed concern about the differences in marine biosecurity
regulation, policy and procedures between jurisdictions around Australia.
Shipping Australia submitted that:
These differences complicate effective and efficient marine
biosecurity management, particularly in association with commercial shipping
activities. Biosecurity legislation must be synchronized across Australia to
ensure consistency of approach, it is unreasonable for a Master of an
international vessel calling in a number of States to be au fait with the
variances in regulations and reporting requirements for each port. Shipping is
international and Australia must follow international conventions. Duplicate
and overlapping State and Federal legislation which adds costs and dissuades
commercial shipping is detrimental to Australia and must be avoided.
Ms Victoria Aitken, from the WA Department of Fisheries, told the
committee that there is 'great inconsistency between the states on how much
they do', citing port monitoring (which is discussed further below) as a key
example of this inconsistency.
In addition to concerns about a lack of consistency between the states,
the committee also received evidence expressing concern about the management of
marine biosecurity within some states. For example, the Victorian National
Parks Association described the coordination between environment and primary
industry agencies in relation to marine biosecurity as 'poor'.
The Victorian Auditor-General conducted an audit of Victoria's 30 marine protected
areas in 2011 and found significant shortcomings, a finding that echoed the
results of an earlier audit of the management of invasive plants and animals in
Victoria's Parks. The Auditor-General stated:
Parks Victoria cannot show that marine biodiversity is being
protected or that the related management obligations of applying resources as
intended are being discharged. Little environmental management activity is
evident across its [marine protected areas].
In common with our 2010 performance audit, Control of
Invasive Plants and Animals in Victoria’s Parks, this audit points to
systemic weaknesses with planning, program management and resource allocation
that should be addressed.
Priority Marine Pests
The departments of agriculture and the environment advised that the
Marine Pest Sectoral Committee is 'currently developing criteria for the
Australian Priority Marine Pests List which will include species assessed as
having a nationally significant impact if they were to become established in
the Australian marine environment'. The departments noted that this assessment
...consider the outcomes of a review of the Consultative
Committee on Introduced Marine Pests' Environmental Biosecurity Trigger List
against the national significance criteria set out in the National
Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement, which was commissioned by the
department and undertaken by CSIRO.
As discussed in the previous chapter, the Australian Museum expressed
concern about the quality of the marine priority species list contained in the Species
biofouling risk assessment report, which in its view contained some
non-invasive species and did not contain several highly invasive species.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority identified the Asian green
mussel (Perna viridis) as an issue of concern for marine biodiversity in
the Great Barrier Reef region, and noted that it has been detected four times
in the region since 2002.
Other high-priority marine pests and diseases not yet established in
Australia that were identified in evidence to the committee included Asian
green mussels; White colonial ascidian Didemnum perlucidum;
and the island apple snail.
The Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association emphasised that, in the case
of aquaculture, the health of the environment is essential to the success of
the industry. Environmental and industry biosecurity are therefore, in their
view, very closely related concerns. The association identified the
introduction via ballast water of toxic dinoflagellates as a significant threat
both to the environment and to aquaculture in coastal marine waters and
The committee received evidence that two of the key pathways for exotic
marine species are from the accumulation of pests attached to vessel hulls ('biofouling')
or through water carried in vessels to maintain their stability (ballast
Other pathways identified included the ornamental fish trade, aquaculture, the food
trade and recreational fishing.
Ballast water and biofouling are discussed further below. The ornamental
fish trade is discussed further in the section on freshwater biosecurity below.
As noted above, 'ballast water' is water taken up and used to stabilise ships.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority explained that:
The discharge of ballast water from ships is recognised as a
significant biosecurity risk and has resulted in the spread of invasive marine
species and pathogens around the world.
The Australian Government introduced mandatory Australian Ballast Water
Requirements in 2001 to 'reduce the risk of introducing harmful aquatic
organisms into Australia's marine environment through ballast water from
international vessels.' These requirements are implemented under the Quarantine
Act and administered by the Department of Agriculture. They require vessels to
exchange ballast water at sea prior to entering Australian waters.
Australia signed the International Convention for the Control and
Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (Ballast Water Convention)
in 2005. AMSA submitted that the Ballast Water Convention 'aims to minimise the
biosecurity risk associated with ballast water by providing uniform
international control and management arrangements for the shipping industry'.
The Australian Ballast Water Requirements discussed above are consistent
with the Ballast Water Convention.
At the time of writing, the Convention had not yet entered into force,
but AMSA suggested that it is likely to be ratified in 2015 and 'implemented
globally during 2016'. AMSA explained that:
Ratification and implementation of the Ballast Water
Convention will significantly strengthen Australia's arrangements to prevent
the entry and establishment of invasive marine species and pathogens. While
there have been mandatory arrangements in place in Australia since 2001, the
Ballast Water Convention will require ships to treat ballast water using
methods that are considerably more effective at reducing biosecurity risk than
the methods that are currently accepted by the Australian Government.
Shipping Australia submitted that 'the increased controls on ballast
water and hull fouling being introduced by the International Maritime
Organisation (IMO) will further enhance the protection of marine environments'.
Victoria currently also has a ballast water regime governing ships
entering Victorian ports from other Australian ports. These ships are required
to comply with the following Victorian legislation: Waste Management Policy
(Ships' Ballast Water) and Environment Protection (Ships' Ballast Water)
The committee notes that the Beale review recommended that the
Commonwealth 'extend its legislative reach to cover the field with respect to
international and domestic ballast water regulation'.
Some submitters and witnesses noted that, in response to the Beale review, the Biosecurity
Bill 2012 contained a chapter regulating ballast water management.
The Invasive Species Council endorsed this approach, but noted that many
details of the proposed regime were to be contained in regulations or decisions
of the Director of Biosecurity.
Chapter 5 of the Biosecurity Bill 2014 addresses the regulation of
ballast water and sediment of vessels. The chapter creates a single,
Australia-wide ballast water and sediment management regime to cover both
international and domestic vessels. The explanatory memorandum to the bill
states that this will 'allow Australia to manage risks associated with ballast
water and work towards ratification of the Ballast Water Convention.'
This chapter of the bill is intended to cover the field with regard to
ballast water biosecurity, which means that it, if enacted, it will 'operate to
exclude any state or territory law that purports to deal with ballast water or
sediment'. However, state and territory laws covering the treatment or disposal
of ballast water or sediment after it has been removed from a vessel may
operate concurrently with this proposed legislation.
The chapter creates an offence of discharging ballast water in
Australian seas, which carries a penalty of up to 2000 penalty units, or
There are a number of exceptions to this offence detailed in the bill,
the ballast water has been managed for discharge in accordance
with an approved method of ballast water management;
the discharge of ballast water is part of an acceptable ballast
there has been an approved discharge to a ballast water reception
the discharge has been covered by an exemption granted by the
Director of Biosecurity;
the ballast water that was discharged was taken from the same
the discharge of ballast water has been necessary for safety of
the vessel or persons at sea, the discharge was accidental, or if the discharge
was for the purpose of avoiding or minimising pollution from the vessel.
As noted above, marine pests can attach themselves to vessels and their
associated equipment. This process is known as 'hull fouling' or 'biofouling',
which is the accumulation of aquatic microorganisms, algae, plants and animals
on vessel hulls and submerged surfaces. Levels of biofouling increase the
longer a vessel or structure remains submerged in seawater.
The Invasive Species Council submitted that biofouling 'is likely to be
the dominant cause of marine invasions, potentially responsible for more than
two-thirds of marine introductions world-wide'.
Indeed, the Department of Agriculture's website states that up to 75 per cent
of the marine species introduced into Australian waters by vessels are likely
to have arrived as biofouling organisms attached to vessels.
Ms Aitken from WA Fisheries described biofouling as 'by far the biggest
risk for marine biosecurity'.
However, many submitters expressed concern that Australia's approach to
biofouling is inadequate. For example, the Invasive Species Council expressed
concern that currently, 'fewer than 1% of arriving vessels are inspected for
biofouling' and one in four of these inspected vessels have high priority pest
species present in biofouling.
The Australian Museum similarly pointed to the inadequacy of biofouling
regulation and submitted that:
Despite the biosecurity threats posed by vessel biofouling,
Australia is yet to develop empirically based fouling standards, contrasting
strongly with New Zealand, for which mature Import Health Standards have
existed for many years. Moreover, guidelines for Australian domestic shipping
exist only as voluntary recommendations. Enforceable biofouling standards are
Ports Australia noted that 'shipping operators have a heightened
awareness of ballast water management procedure'.
By contrast, Ports Australia also submitted that shipping operators 'remain
largely unaware of the issues associated with the impacts arising from hull
fouling and the potential for incursions of marine pests at new locations'.
Submitters and witnesses highlighted the need for a consistent national
approach to the issue of hull fouling. For example, Ports Australia submitted
that there is a 'lack of consistent and binding approach to biofouling risk
management', and that 'differences and duplication of management practices
within and between jurisdictions causes increased costs, time delays,
uncertainties and misunderstandings'.
Ports Australia pointed out that:
...in a number of jurisdictions there has been a distinct lack
of engagement around hull fouling for a range of vessels operating from
international locations. Some of the jurisdictions have put in place fragmented
legislation and regulation which are potentially ineffective. We need
consistency in policy and guidelines between the jurisdictions. Marine pests
know no boundaries. It is all too easy for translocations to take place from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The Invasive Species Council submitted that 'current federal, state and
territory approaches to biofouling are deficient (mostly non-existent) and
The Invasive Species Council noted that Western Australia has the most
stringent requirements, and suggested a national approach should exceed those
WA standards and 'apply them comprehensively to all vessel types, depending on
individual and cumulative risks'.
Indeed, the committee received evidence from the WA Department of
Fisheries of their impressive work in this sphere, including stakeholder engagement
and a biofouling policy. Ms Aitken advised the committee that they provide
clear guidance to all their stakeholders as to 'how they can lower the risk of
their vessel bringing a pest into WA or moving one within WA'. The Western
Australian department conducted a series of workshops, implemented in-water
cleaning guidelines and developed a successful app for the public to report
potential marine pests and diseases, which has resulted in 'thousands of pairs
of eyes out there instead of just our team'. WA has also developed a vessel
risk assessment tool called 'Vessel Check'.
Several witnesses and submitters noted that the IMO has endorsed Guidelines
for control and management of biofouling to minimise the transfer of invasive
The Department of Agriculture advised that these guidelines are being
implemented in Australia, but did not provide any information as to how this is
In Australia, on 26 June 2013, the COAG Standing Council on Primary
Industries endorsed the 'Anti-fouling and in-water cleaning guidelines'. These
guidelines apply to vessels and moveable structures such as oil and other
exploration rigs, floating dry docks, pontoons, aquaculture installations and
There are also six national biofouling management guidance documents for
different vessel categories (for example, for recreational vessels, commercial
fishing vessels and the aquaculture industry).
Under the National Marine Pest System, voluntary biofouling management
guidelines have also been developed for a range of sectors, providing practical
maintenance recommendations to help vessel operators manage biofouling.
In addition to these national guidelines, Western Australia and the Northern
Territory also have their own biofouling management arrangements.
However, submitters noted that these are just voluntary guidelines.
It was suggested that a mandatory regulatory regime may be required. For
example, the Invasive Species Council recommended that the IMO guidelines be
adopted in Australia, along with a national regulatory approach to biofouling
to cover international and domestic traffic for all Australian waters.
The Invasive Species Council submitted that:
All vessels should be required by law to undertake the
risk-minimising measures specified in the biofouling guidelines specific to
different types of vessels rather than leave it to voluntary compliance.
The Invasive Species Council noted that the previous Biosecurity Bill
2012 did not propose a regulatory regime for biofouling, and suggested that
this is a 'major gap' in biosecurity and environmental law.
Ms Aitken from WA Fisheries similarly identified the lack of biofouling
legislation as a big issue in marine biosecurity.
The Invasive Species Council recommended a mandatory regulatory regime
for anti-fouling and submitted that:
This is justified on environmental and economic grounds due
to the high likelihood of invasions by this pathway and the serious to
catastrophic consequences that can result. A voluntary regime will not be
sufficient to address the risk.
A consistent national approach...will be of benefit to business
in reducing complexity arising from different state standards.
Dr Main, Chief Executive Officer, Tasmanian Salmonid Growers Association
Limited, and Mr Jungalwalla, Independent Executive Chair, National Aquaculture
Council, provided the committee with information on biosecurity threats facing
the aquaculture industry in general, and salmon farming in Tasmania in
particular. The introduction of pathogens and diseases via imported fish
products appears to be the most significant threat. However, the movement of
pests and diseases on equipment and ships, both within Australian and from
overseas, is also now a pathway of significant concern.
Dr Main commented on the increasing threat posed to Tasmanian aquaculture
by the movement of contaminated ships and equipment:
That has changed from a minor issue to a major pathway issue.
If it is barges, the boat may be at a safe distance, but there is still a risk
with ships coming into that region, the south-east, which is one of the largest
growing regions for salmonids. That is something that is now raising its head
and increasing its profile in terms of a pathway. We have a benefit in being
geographically isolated and that has served us well in terms of keeping the
industry safe from pests and diseases. But moving forward, as Tasmania grows and
opportunities are taken in other primary industries, we are going to be looking
more intently at those pathways and coming up with strategies to minimise the
The committee notes that, in relation to biofouling, the Beale review
recommended that the Commonwealth's legislative reach should be 'restricted to
international vessels arriving in Australia, with the states and territories
responsible for domestic biofouling requirements'. The Beale review further
recommended that the Commonwealth should promote the development of an
international convention covering biofouling through the International Maritime
The committee also notes that the Biosecurity Bill 2014 does not address
biofouling, in contrast to the situation with ballast water regulation
described in previous section. This bill will therefore not address the
concerns outlined above regarding the lack of a nationally consistent and
enforceable management regime for biofouling in Australian waters.
Finally, the committee notes that the Department of Agriculture is currently
conducting a review of national marine pest policy, which is due to report by
30 June 2015. The issues paper developed for this review states:
For some time the department has been considering new
biofouling management options for vessels arriving in Australian waters. This
work will continue while the review is being conducted and will take into
consideration the input on biofouling management that is received from
stakeholders during the review.
Monitoring, compliance and
enforcement relating to marine pests
As noted elsewhere in this report, submitters and witnesses raised
concerns about biosecurity monitoring and surveillance. Several submissions and
witnesses expressed particular concern about the adequacy of surveillance in
relation to marine pests.
For example, the Australian Museum submitted that marine surveillance is
inadequate and 'creates significant vulnerabilities'. The Australian Museum
suggested that 'although surveillance is generally a state responsibility, a
nationally co-ordinated approach is needed'. At the same time, they noted that
responses to some recent marine incursions, such as the 2007 Green mussel (Perna
viridis) incursion in Cairns and the New Zealand mussel in South Australia
in 2008, 'appear to have been prompt, decisive and effective'.
The Invasive Species Council lamented that 'there is little information
about recent marine incursions due to a lack of marine surveillance and
monitoring'. The Invasive Species Council suggested that there should be
mandatory port marine pest surveys every five years, along with public
reporting and disclosure of marine pest surveys.
The Invasive Species Council also emphasised the need for robust enforcement
regimes and penalties 'to motivate compliance'.
Ms Aitken of the WA Department of Fisheries told the committee that
there are gaps in monitoring. She noted that Commonwealth officers inspect 'the
top side of vessels' and ballast water, but 'there is no underneath inspection'
CSIRO similarly submitted that 'there are too many high priority risks
given Australia's current capacity to respond' and provided the example of
....a few years ago the Marine Pest Sectoral Committee
initiated a marine monitoring network for invasive marine species across
approximately 20 sites around Australia, yet some states have not
completed any of this monitoring. Often high cost is raised as the issue
preventing progress. Similarly there is currently little monitoring of ship
biofouling (i.e. inspection of ship hulls arriving into Australia for their
potential to be carrying invasive marine species) underway. Effectively this
means that not only do we not know what is coming in, we also don’t know in
most situations what is here already until the impacts are obvious.
Shipping Australia expressed a related concern that 'it appears that
certain state jurisdictions have not yet allocated the appropriate resources to
undertake such marine pest monitoring, possibly due to funding limitations',
while Ports Australia submitted that:
More focus needs to be placed on supporting ongoing
surveillance of the marine setting, particularly at entry points of high risk,
and these programs require national support.
GBRMPA identified a need for 'stronger coordination of environmental
monitoring, reporting and research and evaluation within and between ports'.
The authority also suggested that monitoring programs need to be established or
enhanced to enable early detection of invasive marine and terrestrial species.
The authority submitted that, while there is a response plan for introduced
pests in the Great Barrier Reef region, there is little or no planning for
surveillance, management and prevention.
The departments of agriculture and the environment submitted that a Marine
Pest National Monitoring Strategy has been established under the National
System for the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions. This
Strategy provides for:
...an ongoing national programme of targeted monitoring for
marine pests to agreed minimum principles and standards. These principles and
standards are set out in the Australian marine pest monitoring guidelines and
the Australian marine pest monitoring manual to ensure the data is collected
using rigorous, consistent methods and is of a suitable quality for
scientifically-sound decision-making. This monitoring programme provides early
detection of exotic marine pests and is used to routinely update assessments of
the risk status of vectors to prevent marine pest introductions into and within
Under the strategy, biennial monitoring will be undertaken at 18 high
risk ports around Australia. However, the departments advised that 'there is
uneven implementation of the programme across all jurisdictions'.
With regard to the implementation of marine monitoring by the states, Ms Mellor,
Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, stated:
The intention is and has been that states and territories
ought to be monitoring marine pest imports. Certainly some years ago the
Commonwealth provided seed funding to the states and territories to do that.
Not all of them did. There has been some good results and not so good results.
But it is the responsibility of the states and territories to understand what
the pests are in their waters. From that perspective the expectation is that
they will do that. It is difficult if they don't, because I cannot make them;
they have to make their own decisions about the deployment of their resources.
But certainly there have been a few issues with pests and diseases in the
marine space and they are pretty attuned to it now.
The Department of Agriculture also noted that, as part of the review of
national marine pest policy, mentioned above, ABARES is reviewing the existing
national monitoring strategy for marine pests with the aim of identifying 'the
characteristics of the existing National Monitoring Strategy considered
impediments and identify improvements or new characteristics that jurisdictions
would accept and be willing to implement.'
The Department of Agriculture also stated that the results of marine
pest monitoring are published, once available, via the National Introduced
Marine Pest Information System (NIMPIS).
The Western Australian Department of Fisheries told the committee that
the national system has identified 18 high-risk ports that require monitoring
for marine pests and the department has identified 'an additional seven
high-risk areas' in Western Australia that it also monitors at regular
There is, however, inconsistency between states in terms of how much
monitoring they undertake. While Western Australia monitors all of its
high-risk ports, Ms Aitken stated that very few other states do. She also
informed the committee that the resources applied to marine biosecurity vary
greatly between states and that this affects national biosecurity:
There are also great differences between the responses of the
jurisdictions—how many staff are assigned, resourcing and those sorts of
things. For instance, we regularly now find, because we are looking,
significant high-risk pests on vessels that come into WA and we manage those.
But there are knock-on effects if those vessels are going to other states, and
we had one last week in that situation. We are quite good now at managing those
situations, but other states do not necessarily have the processes in place to
deal with them...
The committee received evidence raising concerns about the regulation of
freshwater biosecurity in Australia. The biosecurity threat posed by the
ornamental fish trade was a particular focus of submissions. A 2010 Bureau of
Rural Sciences report states:
The ornamental aquarium fish trade in Australia is estimated
to be worth approximately $350 million annually. This ornamental fish industry
encompasses commercial fish breeding facilities, wholesale traders and
importers, retail outlets and the hobby sector.
While a valuable industry, the introduction of exotic
(non-native) species can present a significant risk to freshwater ecosystems in
Australia and has the potential to alter or degrade natural systems. Exotic
fish species have been implicated in the decline of 42 per cent of Australian
native fish and several frog species.
Regulation of the ornamental fish
The importation of ornamental fish is currently governed by both the
EPBC Act and the Quarantine Act. A number of fish species are contained on the
live import list made under section 303EB of the EPBC Act, both as species that
can be imported without a permit from the Department of the Environment and as
species that do require such a permit before being imported. Species permitted
for import under the EPBC Act also require an import permit issued by the
Department of Agriculture under the Quarantine Act.
The committee notes that the Biosecurity Bill 2014 does not alter
requirements under the EPBC Act. Chapter 3 of the bill does however propose
arrangements for the importation of 'goods' into Australia, with goods being
broadly defined to include plants and animals. Clauses 171 to 181 of this
chapter provide that the Director of Biosecurity and the Director of Human
Biosecurity can jointly determine that certain goods are 'prohibited' or
Under this proposed legislation a good will be declared prohibited,
which means it cannot be brought into Australia, only if each director is
satisfied it poses an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk which cannot be
reduced to an acceptable level. If a good is determined to be 'conditionally
non-prohibited' it may be imported provided specified conditions are met.
The committee notes that no explicit role is given to the Department of
the Environment in the determination of what goods are determined to be
prohibited or conditionally non-prohibited under the proposed legislation.
A national strategy for the management of ornamental fish was approved
by the then Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council of COAG. The
strategy contains a list of noxious ornamental aquarium fish species that the
states and territories have agreed to control through legislation and also a
'grey list' of species which require further assessment. Implementation of the
national strategy is overseen by the national Freshwater Fish Working Group
that reports to the Vertebrate Pest Committee.
However, the 2010 Bureau of Rural Sciences report notes that ornamental
fish imports are not well regulated under either the EPBC Act or the Quarantine
It is estimated that there are around 2000 species in the
ornamental fish trade nationally, most of which are exotic to Australia. Many
fish species in the ornamental fish trade are not on the current national
permitted species lists established under Part 13A of the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 or covered by quarantine
regulations. It may be that such species have been permitted under previous
statutory arrangements, but they are no longer on any national permitted lists
and have not been assessed for potential risk to the Australian environment.
Issues related to importation of
Some submitters and witnesses expressed specific concern about the
ornamental fish trade and its implications for aquatic environments. For
example, the Invasive Species Council submitted that:
Live ornamental fish are a high risk group for introduced
aquatic animal diseases into Australia, because they are vectors of numerous
diseases, and are traded widely around the world, are imported in large numbers
into Australia (>10 million a year) and are frequently released into
waterways by aquarium owners.
The Invasive Species Council noted that more than 450 fish species are
permitted for import into Australia. The Invasive Species Council noted that of
40 exotic fish species known to have established in Australian waterways,
up to 30 were imported as aquarium fish, most of which were likely to have been
illegally released into waterways.
In addition, the Invasive Species Council noted that there is
'reportedly widespread illegal smuggling, breeding and trading of banned
species of aquarium fish in Australia', and that prohibited species make up around
10% of the fish imported in Australia.
The 2010 Bureau of Rural Sciences report provides similar figures on the
number of ornamental fish species that have established in Australia's
To date 30 ornamental fish species have found their way into
Australian native aquatic ecosystems and have been shown to have a significant
impact on these systems. Of the 30 ornamental species established in Australia,
10 (33 per cent) of these species are currently on the permitted imports list, demonstrating
how aquarium species can find there way into freshwater systems. Future escapes
of ornamental fish have the potential to compound current impacts on native
faunal and floral assemblages.
The potential adverse impact on the environment of the release of fish
was detailed in evidence. The Condamine Alliance, for example, highlighted the
threat posed to the Murray-Darling Basin by introduced invasive freshwater
species, in particular the danger posed by tilapia, a group of freshwater fish
in the Cichlidae family. The alliance stated that tilapia are thought to have
entered Australia's waterways via the aquarium trade and have been present in
waterways in Queensland and Western Australia since the 1970s. However, the
Condamine Alliance expressed concern about their potential to invade the
An investigation by Hutchison et al. (2011) indicates that if
tilapia were to enter the Northern Basin, there is potential that they could
spread to approximately 50 per cent of the basin, as far as the Lower Lakes and
lower Murray in South Australia. Predicted temperature rise of 1 to 2 degrees
associated with climate change may mean that tilapia could disperse throughout
the entire [Murray-Darling Basin] (Hutchison et al. 2011) as their thermal
tolerance range extends and sexual activities increase with the predicted
warmer climate (Greiner & Gregg 2008).
The effective management of pest fish is a growing concern in
Queensland. Once they have colonized a waterway it is almost impossible to eradicate
them with current methods.
Dr John Harris, a fisheries scientist and freshwater ecologist, provided
a submission highlighting the impact of common carp in Australia's river
systems. Although carp have been present in Australia for over 150 years, and
are present in every jurisdiction except the Northern Territory, they continue
to spread to new areas.
Dr Harris stated that genetic research indicates that these invading
populations are 'entirely or largely based on koi parentage. Representatives include
those in east-coast rivers, Tasmania, the ACT and other parts of the [Murray-Darling
Basin]'. This indicates that the source of these carp populations is koi
Dr Harris stated that lax regulation of koi carp industry in New South
Wales means that 'that large numbers of the State's coastal-drainage rivers,
together with their highly vulnerable wetlands, are threatened by incursions of
carp', and that 'regulatory efforts in neighbouring States are made less
effective by the ease of cross-border access to koi carp'.
The Department of Fisheries in Western Australia noted that 'biosecurity
management of freshwater pest fish is not so well established at the national
level as it is for marine':
Responses to new detections of freshwater pest fish are not
nationally prioritised or coordinated and are unlikely to be adequate, under
current arrangements. National monitoring or data sharing is needed, as are
national mechanisms to capture and analyse data on freshwater fish incursions. The
non-existence of a Consultative Committee to report to and discuss new
freshwater fish incursions is a significant gap.
Ms Aitken of the WA Department of Fisheries told the committee that the
process for identifying high-risk freshwater species has been 'very slow':
There are many thousands of ornamental freshwater species,
and almost 70 per cent of pest fish in freshwater rivers and waterways
come from aquarium related species...
Ms Aitken also noted that there are sometimes gaps in the process in
relation to aquatic biosecurity at the Commonwealth level:
Thousands of ornamental fish come in via the airport, but
until recently there were no checks done on that. For instance, you might check
whether there is any weed in the bag or if there are any snails, but you might
not check that the species of fish is what it says it is.
She observed that the WA Department of Fisheries compliance team has
started to undertake airport visits to check imported fish.
The Invasive Species Council expressed further concern that 'current
quarantine practices are known by biosecurity authorities to be ineffective in
stopping the entry of diseased fish into Australia', and that 'very little is
known about specific disease risks of the hundreds of species permitted entry
The Invasive Species Council noted reports indicating that 'risk assessments
for the importation of aquarium fish are based on overseas information, which
can be of limited value in predicting the likelihood of environmental impacts
in Australian waters'.
The committee also notes that the Department of Agriculture's Annual
Report 2013–14 states that the Department:
...continued to focus on managing the biosecurity risks
associated with ornamental fish imports by placing greater emphasis on managing
the biosecurity risks offshore and introducing an on-arrival fish health
The report states that trials of the fish health monitoring programme
commenced in 2013. The Department of Agriculture and the Department of
Environment also submitted that there is an Aquatic Consultative Committee on
Emergency Animal Disease which coordinates the national technical response to
aquatic animal disease incursions.
Several submitters and witnesses emphasised the importance of
biosecurity on Australia's islands. For example, Dr Andrew Burbidge AO submitted
Australia's continental and oceanic islands protect an
amazing number and variety of plants and animals. Some of these are endemic or
are extinct on the Australian mainland...non-indigenous species are the major
threat to island biodiversity...Some species have already been lost from
Australia’s islands because of invasive species. Despite this Australia does
not have a comprehensive, national plan for island biosecurity.
As noted in Chapter 2, this committee recommended in its recent report
on threatened species and ecological communities that the Department of the
Environment develop biosecurity strategies to protect island sanctuaries.
The government response agreed but noted that while Norfolk Island, Christmas
Island and Pulu Keeling National Parks are managed by the Australian
Government, the responsibility for development biosecurity strategies to
protect other island sanctuaries 'lies with the states and territories'.
Dr Burbidge acknowledged that biosecurity for islands is largely a state
responsibility, but suggested that as such there is currently a very 'ad hoc
Dr Burbidge called for a 'comprehensive national plan for island biosecurity'.
The Invasive Species Council echoed this call, highlighting that
'islands are very important environmental assets in Australia' which harbour
many endemic species and subspecies, provide breeding and roosting grounds for
seabirds, mammals and reptiles, and function as refugia for species threatened
by invasive species on the mainland. For these reasons, the Invasive Species
Council suggested that 'rigorous biosecurity for islands should be a high
environmental priority', yet is often neglected.
The Invasive Species Council proposed a 'National Island Biosecurity
Initiative' to establish biosecurity priorities for all islands based on their
ecological values and risk assessment. It suggested that biosecurity management
systems be developed for all islands, and that the proposed new biosecurity
legislation should allow for the declaration of 'conservation biosecurity
zones' to facilitate biosecurity management measures for high conservation
value areas such as islands.
Support for focusing on protecting the biosecurity of Australia's
islands was also expressed by the South Australian Government, which cited the
relatively pest-free status of Kangaroo Island as an example of islands
providing biosecurity refuges:
All significant islands around Australia should be considered
in terms of havens for native animals, plants and marine life and should have
environmental biosecurity protection where possible. An example is Kangaroo
Island in South Australia, which is free of many pests present on the mainland.
This should be considered as part of any future policy arrangements as there is
a strategic advantage in preserving these refuges for the future benefit of the
Dr Burbidge and Professor Woinarski described the 'historic and recent
biosecurity performance in relation to Christmas Island ' as 'shockingly
Dr Burbidge explained that there has been a serious decline in biodiversity on
Christmas Island, 'due almost entirely to the establishment of non-indigenous
species'. An expert working group, of which Dr Burbidge was a member,
recommended in 2010 that biosecurity on Christmas Island be improved. Dr
Burbidge told the committee that there has been 'no adequate response' to the
group's recommendations relating to biosecurity and that:
The Department of Agriculture has insufficient resources on
the island to effectively manage biosecurity, especially noting that one of
their major duties is to minimise the threat of invasive species on Christmas
Island getting to mainland Australia.
Dr Burbidge and Professor Woinarski pointed to the poor resource levels
provided to undertake biosecurity screening:
The Australian Department of Agriculture currently has a
single biosecurity staff person on the island plus casuals...there is often only
one person available to screen arriving people and goods. The amount of goods,
including food and plants, arriving on Christmas Island, much of it from Asia,
is large, given the size of the population on the island, including people and
staff associated with the Immigration Detention Centre.
Dr Burbidge stated that the most pressing threat to Christmas Island's
biodiversity is the yellow crazy ant, which has had a devastating effect on the
island's ecosystem. He commented:
The major threat to Christmas Island biodiversity at the
moment is the yellow crazy ant, which has gone into supercolony development,
and that is because there has also been a species of scale insects introduced
to Christmas Island, and the interaction between the ants and the scales is
actually driving an ecological cascade which is impacting a whole lot of other
species on the island.
Dr Burbidge further explained that previous attempts to control the
yellow crazy ant population had employed a 'highly toxic pesticide', but that
work was now concentrating on using biological controls to reduce the scale
insect population and thereby control the yellow crazy ant population.
The committee received a detailed submission on the yellow crazy ant from
the Christmas Island Crazy Ant Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAP), which 'provides
scientific and technical advice to Parks Australia to inform pest ant
management on Christmas Island and Pulu Keeling National Parks, with a particular
focus on the implementation of the ten-year Crazy Ant Management Strategy for
CASAP reported that the baiting program conducted on the island since
2002 is considered an 'outstanding success' in that it considerably reduced ant
populations when applied. However, this program is problematic in that the
island's land crabs are also susceptible to the bait, much of the island is
inaccessible and that yellow crazy ant super colonies frequently re-form after
baiting has occurred. These factors, and the high recurrent cost of the
program, make it 'difficult if not impossible to sustain in perpetuity in such
a remote location.'
CASAP explained that, in light of these weaknesses with using baits to
control the yellow crazy ant (YCA) population, a biological control method, as
mentioned above, is being trialled:
An ambitious biological control program, funded by the
Department of the Environment, is under development to suppress high YCA
densities on Christmas Island by targeting their major food supply—carbohydrates
supplied by honeydew-producing scale insects feeding on their host trees. YCA
depend heavily on this honeydew resource and in its absence YCA populations
decline rapidly (Green et al. 2013). This effort involves the introduction to
the island of a host-specific natural enemy—a tiny microwasp—that targets only
the introduced yellow lac scale, the main supplier of honeydew to the YCA.
Rigorous tests have demonstrated that this microwasp attacks only the yellow
lac scale. If this specific microwasp establishes on the island, prospects are
very good that it will reduce the honeydew supply to the YCA and result in a
safe, self-sustainable means of managing the YCA and its impacts on
biodiversity on the island.
On the other hand, several witnesses pointed to the example of
biosecurity management of Barrow Island in Western Australia as exemplary. For
example, Dr Burbidge told the committee that the biosecurity work done by
Chevron on Barrow Island in recent years has been 'extremely effective':
They have shown what you can do with commitment and some
resources directed towards a problem like this...there is a case where government
can probably learn from industry as to the way things might be improved.
The Barrow Island Quarantine Management System was described as the
'world's largest non-government biosecurity initiative' and has been recognised
for its excellence.
Mr Richard Stoklosa stated that the approach taken to the implementation
of biosecurity on Barrow Island could be used as an instructive example for
developing biosecurity strategies more generally. He emphasised the following
key features of the Barrow Island approach:
defining a clear objective for the project and what outcomes
would constitute a success;
prioritising prevention rather than eradication;
putting in place good leadership and clear lines of
engaging expertise; and
engaging non-experts in surveillance and detection.
As discussed in chapter 4, Mr Stoklosa emphasised the importance of
starting with a clear goal, and constructing a strategy on that basis. He
stated that the ALOP description of the level of biosecurity protection
Australia intends to maintain, 'a very low level but not zero', is not precise
In the world that I came from, with the Barrow Island
biosecurity program, the system was a zero-tolerance approach—absolutely zero
tolerance. That meant doing the most comprehensive invertebrate survey of any
island in the world on Barrow Island to figure out what was there, because you
could not decide what was coming if you did not know what was there. We spent a
lot of time on that sort of effort.
It is that sort of objective and policy statement that
triggers what you must do. I am not saying that zero tolerance is appropriate
for environmental biosecurity. I think it probably cannot ever be...but you need
to decide, and perhaps the other submissions that talk about specific pests
inform this sort of debate and this decision about what the policy is. Once you
have that set, you can then understand what you must do.
Great Barrier Reef World Heritage
The GBRMPA submitted that, in terms of islands in the Great Barrier Reef
World Heritage Area, 'work is progressing on developing' an overarching World
Heritage Area Island Biosecurity Strategy, which will integrate individual
Biosecurity Management Plans for high conservation value island groups.
GBRMPA reported that:
The maintenance of island biodiversity and ecosystem health
of the Great Barrier Reef Region relies on arrangements to prevent entry and
establishment of invasive species. Where invasive species have become established,
field management resources have been and are currently deployed to maximise ecosystem
resilience to climate change and other stressors by enhancing natural
vegetation communities, minimising introduced flora and fauna, and maximising
breeding opportunities for important coastal birds, marine turtle[s] and other
As noted in chapter 4, GBRMPA has recently responded to a variety of
invasive species detections on islands that it manages, including ants, goats,
rats, deer, grasses and vines.
The committee discussed with representatives of Biosecurity Tasmania
progress on developing a biosecurity plan for Macquarie Island. The committee
was informed that a Macquarie Island biosecurity plan, to be adopted jointly by
the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) and the Australian Antarctic
Division (AAD) of the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, has been under
development for some time and that its finalisation is now imminent. A final
draft of the plan is currently being reviewed by the Australian Antarctic
Division with a view to finalisation before the schedule resupply voyage to
Macquarie Island in April 2015.
Although the plan is not yet finalised, a number of biosecurity measures
have been in place since 2011, including:
PWS and AAD have been using rodent
detector dogs to screen cargo, ships and passenger personal effects departing
for Macquarie for several years. A new rodent detector dog is currently being
trained and arrangements are being developed for it to screen all ships
departing for Macquarie Island from Hobart and for the dog and handler to
travel to Macquarie Island on-board the AAD chartered ship undertaking future
Individual inspections of
expeditioner personal effects have been undertaken on all AAD voyages to
Macquarie since late 2011.
A three tiered inspection regime
(along with the use of rodent proof and invertebrate resistant cargo
containers) has been implemented to inspect all Macquarie Bound cargo.
The AAD now sends all cargo
through a purpose built Cargo and Biosecurity Centre which has been designed to
be rodent proof. The Cargo and Biosecurity Centre is regularly baited for
rodents and sprayed for invertebrates.
The scientific station area is
monitored for any pest species introductions (and also baited for rodents) over
the course of each shipping season.
A number of biosecurity measures are also in place to address risks
posed by tourist vessels visiting the island.
Evidence presented to the committee suggests that Australia's marine
biosecurity system performs very unevenly. There appear to be widely varying
levels of surveillance and monitoring undertaken by state and Northern
Territory governments. The two major pathways for marine invasive species,
ballast water and biofouling, have not been well regulated. Although the
Biosecurity Bill 2014 includes provisions for the national regulation of
ballast water, it does not address the issue of biofouling, which presents the
greater risk in terms of marine biosecurity.
The ornamental fish trade also appears to present a significant threat
to the health of Australia's freshwater environments. A significant proportion
of exotic fish that have established in Australia's waterways are related to
aquarium fish. The committee received evidence that inspection regimes for
freshwater fish at Australia's borders are lax in that fish are not inspected
to determine their species or their disease status. There also appears to be
many species in the ornamental fish trade that do not appear on permitted
species lists under the EPBC Act and the Quarantine Act.
Australia's record regarding island biosecurity is also uneven.
Christmas Island and Barrow Island provide contrasting examples of failure and
success in this area. There is currently no national strategy for managing the
biosecurity of Australia's islands, despite their importance as biodiversity
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