Abalone Virus Class Action

Update

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, on behalf of group members in the Abalone class action, has reached an in-principle settlement with one of the defendants, Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd, regarding the trial that was due to begin in the Supreme Court on Monday, 9 September.

The terms of the settlement are confidential. This settlement does not affect the outstanding issues in the class action still being run against the State Government, which has always been the primary respondent.

What will occur, however, is that the trial will now be adjourned for a fortnight.

The action

On Friday 12 November 2010, Maurice Blackburn issued proceedings against the State of Victoria and Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd, on behalf of a group of Victorian abalone licence-holders and abalone divers.  The action seeks to recover financial losses suffered by them due to the outbreak of a lethal abalone virus known as Abalone Viral Ganglioneuritis in wild abalone populations.  The virus is a herpes-like virus which causes inflammation of the nervous tissues in the abalone, interfering with its ability to properly adhere to surfaces or feed.  Abalones are unlikely to survive an infection as the virus is known to cause death rates of 90% to 100%.

The virus was first reported in Australia on December 2005, when several abalone aquaculture farms in western Victoria, including Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd, experienced unusually high levels of abalone deaths.  The Victorian government began investigations at this time.  In May 2006, the alleged negligence of the defendants caused the virus to escape and infect wild abalone located in a nearby bay that Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd discharged effluent into.   Since then, the virus has caused substantial deaths in wild abalone populations and continues to spread along the coastal waters of Victoria from Port Fairy.

It is alleged in the action that:

  • Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd took inadequate precautions to stop the spread of the disease and its escape into wild abalone populations;
  • the Victorian government was negligent in failing to require appropriate biosecurity measures at Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd when it initially licensed their operations; and
  • the Victorian government was negligent in failing to require Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd to halt operations or stop discharging virus laden effluent water into the ocean.  Although the government declared the virus an 'exotic' disease under the Livestock Diseases Control Act 1994 on 7 February 2006, Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd was allowed to continue discharging effluent into the ocean.

Abalone licence-holders and divers are claiming various losses including:

  • reduction of annual abalone harvest quota allowed
  • decreased abalone sales
  • reduction of profits, and
  • reduction of value of abalone license.

Registration of interest

The litigation is being funded by the international litigation funding company Omni Bridgeway, which is paying the upfront legal costs and disbursements of the action and meeting the risk of the other side's costs.

Abalone license-holders, including abalone fishery access license-holders and divers, who have suffered loss due to the virus may register interest in being part of this action by emailing us at abaloneca@mauriceblackburn.com.au. Registering with us does not make you a client of the firm and does not require the payment of any legal costs. Further information and an invitation to retain us as your lawyers will follow from your registration.

Click here to view the Plaintiff's Amended Statement of Claim. If you are named in Schedule A of this document, then you are a group member in this class action.