A class action that gets underway today alleges the Victorian Government should have intervened to stop the spread of a deadly abalone virus.
The herpes-like virus was first reported on an abalone farm in 2005, when unusually high numbers of the animals started to die in western Victoria.
Then the virus spread, infecting wild abalone populations from the South Australian border to Cape Otway.
Jacob Vargese from the law firm Maurice Blackburn is alleging the Victorian Government failed to enforce appropriate biosecurity measures which allowed the virus to spread to the wild population.
"The State Government was the entity responsible for protecting, managing fisheries but also for dealing with animal health emergencies and we say that the state should have intervened to control the disease on the farm, mostly by shutting the farm down," he said.
One of the abalone farms involved in the case has settled but the case against the State Government is going ahead.
Abalone diver Garry Baird he lost his business and his livelihood.
"I had a farm, had my licence, was making plenty of money and it all went to pieces because of the virus," he said.
Mr Vargese and with over 80 parties in the class action, the damages may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
He says the industry may never recover.
"One of the important things about the abalone industry in Victoria and Australia in general is that until this virus, we were one of the last remaining viable wild abalone fisheries because in most parts of the world they've been destroyed in some way or another," he said.
"They're slow growing animals that rely a lot on having big colonies. Take that out and it may take ages or it may never recover."