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Queensland shrimp sector hit by whitespot virus

24 April 2020, at 12:01am

White spot disease has been discovered at two shrimp farms in Queensland, prompting fears for the state’s entire shrimp sector.

Whitespot, also known as whitespot syndrome virus (WSSV) was responsible for wiping out shrimp stocks in seven farms, and causing losses of almost $400 million, in the state in 2016.

However, it had not been detected in the state for almost two years before routine surveillance testing by Biosecurity Queensland officials revealed the presence of the virus at two farms on the Logan River in March.

State authorities are now working to ensure that the highly contagious viral infection - which is, however, harmless to humans - is contained.

"This is not the result we wanted to see but we will get through this and now more than ever we should be supporting our local seafood industry," said the state’s agriculture minister, Mark Furner, this week.

Signs of the disease include loose shells, the presence of numerous white spots (0.5–2.0mm in diameter) on the inside surface of the shell, pink-to-red discoloration, unusual mortality, shrimp coming to the edge or water surface and demonstrating unusual swimming patterns.

Eric Perez, head of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, said the affected farms had fortunately almost finished harvesting their prawns (as shrimp are generally referred to in Australia) .

"It's not great news but nothing really changes; it's business as usual," he told ABC Radio.

The virus has also been detected in a sample of wild shrimp in Moreton Bay, but it is not yet known where the outbreak originated.

Queensland's chief biosecurity officer Malcolm Letts told ABC Radio: "This disease is very difficult to trace as to whether it comes from wild to farms or farms to wild."

Biosecurity Queensland now plans to review all the state’s shrimp farms to ensure on-farm biosecurity management is appropriate for dealing with the new outbreak.

They have also out movement restrictions in place for prawns, yabbies and marine worms, within the white spot disease restricted area, which extends from Caloundra to the New South Wales border and west to Ipswich, unless cooked first.

Anglers using prawns as bait have been urged to make sure they are Australian wild-caught from a quality bait supplier.

"Using imported raw prawns as bait may introduce serious diseases into our waterways," the agency warns.