Last month, farmers in Dong Hoa District of Phu Yen Province discovered their white-leg shrimp were covered with red spots.
The disease then caused some of the shrimps to lose their appetite and die while the rest stopped growing.
Initial tests revealed that the water on the farms was polluted and the quality of breeding-shrimps low.
"If we do not have good preparation and control, epidemics may occur and cause huge damage like in the case of sugpo prawn"
Ly Vinh Phuoc of the Agriculture Expansion Centre of HCM City.
However, experts are not certain of the shrimp’s resistance to disease.
"This is a new kind of aquaculture," said Ly Vinh Phuoc of the Agriculture Expansion Centre of HCM City.
"We cannot be sure whether it can easily get diseases or not. If we do not have good preparation and control, epidemics may occur and cause huge damage like in the case of sugpo prawn,"
Le Ngoc Phuoc, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Association of Fishing, said countries that had previously raised white-leg shrimps, such as Thailand and India were planning to return to sugpo shrimps.
"White-leg shrimps are now being raised in many southern provinces thanks to their high profit and adaptability, but officials have warned that farmers should not rush to abandon sugpo prawns.
In recent years, sugpo prawn farms in southern provinces have been experiencing epidemics and farmers have suffered major losses.
Many farm owners then shifted to white-leg shrimp after initial models showed that this variety brings a higher profit.
According to a report by the Department of Aquaculture under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as of August 22, the area used for white-leg shrimp breeding is over 14,000ha out of the total 600,000ha used for shrimp-breeding throughout the country.
Nguyen Thanh Luong, head of the Department of Economy of Can Gio District in HCM City, said white-leg shrimps grew well in the district’s shrimp breeding area.
After 75 to 80 days, farmers can harvest the shrimps which bring in VND2- 3 million (up to US$ 176) per tonne, a higher profit than sugpo prawns.
Dinh Thi Truc My, a resident of Phuoc Thuan Commune in Xuyen Moc District of Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, has 4 million white-leg shrimps in an area of 4ha.
After three months, she harvested 35 tonnes of the shrimp and bagged VND640 million ($37,000).
"Three years ago, I raised sugpo prawn but they all got diseases and died. I lost everything," said My.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Viet Thang said at a conference that developing white-leg shrimp farming had to be simultaneous with the search to treat sugpo prawn diseases.
He required the aquaculture sector to focus on disease watch and prevention.
"Each province should gather farmers who raise white leg shrimp into a group and set out certain criteria, techniques for breeding and find a stable consumption market," said Thang.
He also emphasised the need to plan a breeding area to prevent spontaneous reproduction.
Meanwhile, reports from provinces reveal that more than 75,000ha of sugpo prawn - or 21 per cent of the total area of shrimp breeding in the country - has been affected by diseases, and about 1.8 billion breeding prawns have died.
According to the director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Khanh Hoa Province, Dao Quang Thiem, the province primarily focuses on producing breeding prawns but only has the resources to quarantine one third of them.
"The cost of quarantine is high. For example, with 7 billion breeding prawns, farmers would have to pay VND7 billion ($411,000)," he said.
Though many provinces give 10 per cent subsidies to farmers to cut quarantine costs, this is often not enough and many farmers avoid quarantine altog-ether. This often leads to epidemics that are difficult to control.
Thiem suggested that provinces should amend their supportive policy on quarantine costs to gain control of epidemic diseases which effect sugpo prawns.
"We should not abandon sugpo prawn for white-leg shrimp. We should diversify our aquaculture products," said Deputy Minister Nguyen Viet Thang.