Prawn industry representatives say last week’s announcement that white spot disease has been found in wild prawns in northern Moreton Bay means there’s real potential for the exotic virus to spread north and wipe out the Australian prawn farming industry.
Three-quarters of Australia’s prawn farms are in north Queensland, and Australian Prawn Farming Association executive officer Helen Jenkins said news of the spread of the virus, previously found only in farms in the Logan River, was highly concerning.
“While green imported prawns are out there with the potential to spread the disease, no-one is safe,” she said. “We could see the whole Australian industry affected.”
Her organisation is calling for the importation of green prawns to cease, as well as more widespread surveillance and education to prevent fishermen from using possibly diseased prawns for bait.
The Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter said Australia’s prawn industry has been “sacrificed on the altar of free trade”.
“I congratulate the government of Australia with their free trade policies and no quarantine.
“Because the currents flow north, white spot will now be taken up the Queensland coast and infect the Great Barrier Reef.
“This was done with eyes wide open. Every single person associated with the prawn industry and every scientist who ever looked at this knew if you brought the prawns in, you’d bring the white spot in...and these damn people in Canberra run around talking about our clean green image.”
Ms Jenkins said it was fortuitous that an international expert on the disease, Cyprus’s Francois Brenta, was conducting a workshop for the APFA in Australia last week when the announcement of the spread of the disease was made.
With funding from the federal government, Mr Brenta will look at farms in both the north and south of the state and advise on biosecurity regulations.
State Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Bill Byrne last week established an immediate control order for the Moreton Bay region, saying it would be in place for three months “to allow the government to contain any potential spread of the virus, conduct further testing and determine future action”.
Chief biosecurity officer Dr Jim Thompson said it was clear further steps were needed in the biosecurity response.
“Until recently, we had only received a small number of positive results for white spot disease in prawns and crabs from the local Logan River area, but the new detections mean further movement restrictions are needed to safeguard the state’s multi-million dollar aquaculture industries,” he said.
In February, Logan River prawn farmers said their futures hung in the balance, not knowing when they could begin restocking empty ponds or what government imposed conditions would be placed on the operation of their farms.
Likening the impact of the unprecedented outbreak of white spot disease in prawns as similar to foot-and-mouth disease in livestock, the seven farm businesses have been brought to a standstill, leaving owners with no income and an uncertain future.
Under biosecurity laws, some 10 million prawns were destroyed after white spot was detected. That included the disposal of valuable breeding stock, in the attempt to eliminate the disease.