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Fishing industry rattled as white spot disease breaks barriers

White spot disease in giant black tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon). Prawns at top and right of main photo show pink body colour typical of the acute phase of infection, while those at the bottom and to the left show classic white spots following the acute phase. Supplied: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
White spot disease in giant black tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon). Prawns at top and right of main photo show pink body colour typical of the acute phase of infection, while those at the bottom and to the left show classic white spots following the acute phase. Supplied: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

IT was the outbreak they were expecting, but hoping would never come to pass.

Concern and uncertainty seem to the prevailing moods amongst the Queensland commercial fishing industry, reeling from this week's news that white spot disease had broken it's containment in the Logan River and been detected in Moreton Bay.

RELATED: White spot disease confirmed in some Moreton Bay prawns

There's also considerable frustration amongst members of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA), many of whom predicted the outbreak was a matter of 'when', not 'if'.

"It definitely hasn't been a good week for us,” says QSIA's CEO Eric Perez.

"There's certainly a lot of concern about the impact this will have on the industry here, as well as the knock-on effects this will have on the wider community.”

There appears to be no immediate threat to fisheries in the Gympie and Cooloola Cove regions, but tests are ongoing just to determine how far the disease has spread.

As it stands, strict biosecurity measures have been implemented for the region - effectively restricting the movement of uncooked prawns and other crustaceans.

The restriction zone, expected to last for the next three months, stretches from Caloundra to the NSW border, as far inland as Ipswich.

Trawler owner Paul Williams has concerns about the implications of the discover of white spot virus in prawns in Moreton Bay will mean for the industry and hopes that the news does not tarnish the brand of the Mooloolaba king prawn, which he says has not been contaminated so far and is fine to eat.
Trawler owner Paul Williams has concerns about the implications of the discover of white spot virus in prawns in Moreton Bay will mean for the industry and hopes that the news does not tarnish the brand of the Mooloolaba king prawn, which he says has not been contaminated so far and is fine to eat. Patrick Woods

The ban currently applies to raw seafood, cooked products will still be able to be moved.

The effectiveness of this plan will likely be questioned by local producers, who believe the measures come too late to slow the halt of the 'unstoppable' disease.

RELTED: White spot threat: is fishing finished in Queensland?

After all, the Federal Government has come under fire from the industry for placing free trade above the biosecurity of Australian waterways.

It's believed the disease was initially spread to Australia through imports of seafood carrying white spot.

White spot disease is highly contagious in prawns, often proving to be fatal in crustaceans.

A prawn infected with White Spot Disease
A prawn infected with White Spot Disease Contributed

There are fears that in addition to Moreton prawn fishers being devastated, the disease could also transmit to crabs as well.

Despite the large risk posed to seafood, Mr Perez wanted to reassure customers that there was no inherent health risks to humans.

"I think people are naturally going to be very concerned about this, even outside of the industry,” he says.

"But what we want to impart on people is that they need to stick by their local seafood producers, buying local to support them through this difficult time.”

The Federal Government will be providing industry liaison officers to provide assistance to local producers, while Mr Perez went on to say the State Government's handling of the crisis was less than satisfactory.

"Look, it's very easy to place the blame on someone, but the reality is this is an unprecedented outbreak - something like this hasn't really happened before,” he says.

"Because of that the response hasn't been the best, but there's a genuine willingness to cooperate and help to prevent the spread of white spot any further.”

When asked what the immediate future for the local fishing industry was, Mr Perez says it was difficult to say, but added with the community's assistance it would be able to weather the damage white spot would bring.

"We're a resilient bunch,” he says, "We'll get through this”.

Topics:  fishing industry qsia white spot white spot disease

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