Just weeks leading into Christmas, a disease that has the potential to decimate Australian prawn stocks has been found on two farms south of Brisbane. While Australia has been the only major prawn-growing country that has not had white spot disease, it has certainly reduced prawn farm productivity by up to 40 per cent overseas. White spot disease (WSD) is highly contagious and lethal to crustaceans.
Now, it’s been found in Queensland. According to Queensland’s chief biosecurity officer Jim Thompson, it was the first time the viral infection had reared its head in Australia. “Australia has been the only major prawn-growing country that has not had white spot disease,” he said to ABC News.
“It can cause significant mortality in farmed prawns. Over 80 per cent of prawns can die.”
Biosecurity Queensland detected an outbreak in a pond at an aquaculture farm, south of the Logan River, last week, but is refusing to disclose the exact location. The disease has since been found at a neighbouring farm.
Dr Thompson said authorities were “very concerned” about the virus spreading, but were confident they could eradicate it, provided it had not spread further.
“We’ve got three properties that we are concerned about in that area, three closely linked properties,” he said.
“We have movement control orders over those so we’ve basically got those properties locked down.”
Authorities are destroying the prawns and decontaminating affected ponds to contain the outbreak and stop it entering waterways.
“We’re obviously concerned about whether this can move into the environment,” Dr Thompson said.
“The controls we’ve got in place are to protect the environment as well as other prawn-farming enterprises, and we think that’s very much under control.”
Biosecurity Queensland is now checking surrounding waterways and urging locals to report unusual prawns or crabs caught in the area.
Consumers are urged to not panic about being served these prawns at eateries as Australian Prawn Farmers Association chief executive Helen Jenkins has written to seafood outlets assuring them none of the diseased prawns will enter the domestic or international markets.
“This is an isolated incident and will not affect the availability of prawns for Christmas,” she said.
“The disease does not pose a threat to human health or food safety.”
The industry group, The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, described the outbreak as a “very serious situation” for the prawn farming sector.
Biosecurity Queensland said it was too early to speculate on how the disease had entered Australia.
How to spot a prawn with the white spots disease:
- Unusual prawn deaths
- Loose shells with white spots (photo)
- Prawns swimming strangely and coming to edge of pond or tank