White spot disease threat to Australian shellfish farms

White Spot disease. Photo: BioSecurity Australia

SHELLFISH farms in South east Queensland in Australia have been put on alert after White Spot disease was detected in seafood samples.

White spot syndrome is a viral infection is highly lethal and contagious, killing shrimp quickly. Outbreaks of this disease have wiped out the entire populations of many fish farms within a short space of time in places throughout the world. However, the disease is not harmful to humans and the authorities say it is safe to eat shellfish that has already gone to market. A similar outbreak in 2016 destroyed stocks at a number of Queensland prawn farms and cost the sector more than three hundred million Australian dollars.

The state was only a few months away from obtaining proof of freedom – two years of consecutive negative results for white spot syndrome virus. The discovery follows reports of the re-emergence of a separate destructive viral infection at prawn farms in the Guangdong province of southern China over a week ago.

The Australian discovery was confirmed after Biosecurity Queensland undertook routine surveillance for white spot in Moreton Bay a couple of weeks ago. The tests were later confirmed by the by the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. The disease is very difficult to establish whether it originates in fish farms or whether it comes from outside. A number of restrictions are now in force.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said (to ABC Radio):

‘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.

‘Queensland seafood is magnificent, the best in the world, and that hasn’t changed. I hope everyone will back our Queensland seafood industry by buying it and enjoying it more than ever.

‘Biosecurity Queensland will review all prawn farms to ensure future on-farm biosecurity management is appropriate in dealing with this new detection.’

Footnote: Australia is one of the few countries that has managed to contain the spread of coronavirus with under 7,000 cases nationwide and a death toll of less than 100.