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A MARINE organism dubbed the “cane toad of the ocean” has invaded the WA coastline from Broome to Esperance and is threatening the state’s multimillion-dollar aquaculture industry.
The white sea squirt has already invaded Brazil, New Zealand, Scotland and the US, and nowhere have attempts to eradicate the underwater menace succeeded.
Now, after first turning up in the Swan River in 2010, the species — which attaches to boat hulls and fishing nets — has colonised most of WA’s coastline.
The animal looks like dripping wax, feels like leather and spreads like a marine carpet, multiplying sexually and asexually as it smothers reefs, artificial structures, nets and equipment used to farm mussels, oysters and pearls.
A Fisheries Department report warns the sea squirt is now so common it is only worth considering saving “high value” areas like marine parks and aquaculture farms.
A taskforce with officers from the Fisheries, Parks and Wildlife, Agriculture and Food, Transport and Environment departments has been formed to map the pest’s spread and research solutions.
But the State Opposition claims the Government’s efforts to fight the threat have been “woeful”.
“The sea squirt is the cane toad of the sea and a serious threat to WA. The alarm was raised years ago but the Barnett Government has been negligent,” Opposition environment spokesman Chris Tallentire said.
“Writing a report and setting up a working group that has met twice is a woeful response to this emergency.”
He said an education campaign should have been launched to stop boaties spreading the pest instead of “running up the white flag”.
Fisheries Minister Ken Baston would not respond to the allegations this week, saying it was an operational matter for his department to address.
Fisheries biosecurity team leader Victoria Aitken said: “Unfortunately it is very difficult to eradicate aquatic pests once they arrive unless caught very early. This pest is now in many locations so the department’s focus is on trialling control measures to protect high priority, high value or at risk assets.”
Glenn Dibbin, co-owner of Blue Lagoon Mussels in Cockburn Sound, said his operation was overrun by sea squirts in 2010 and the creatures remained, but in smaller numbers.
“We had a big issue but now it sits in the background unless conditions are ripe and the waters are warm,” he said.
Former WA Fishing Industry Council president and Augusta abalone operator Brad Adams said the sea squirt had not had a major impact on WA’s south coast due to colder waters.