Abalone Virus class action

Current Status

On 18 September 2013, The Honourable Justice Beach approved a settlement between the plaintiff (on behalf of group members) and the second defendant, Southern Ocean Mariculture Pty Ltd.

Following this, the plaintiff proceeded with its claim against the first defendant, the State of Victoria. The trial commenced in the Supreme Court of Victoria on 23 September 2013 and concluded on 22 October 2013.

On 7 November 2013, a decision was handed down by The Honourable Justice Beach, dismissing the plaintiff’s claim — that decision can be found here.

On 21 November 2013, the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria. The appeal is currently underway.

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.