White spot disease

​​​​​​​​​​​​Current situation

Photo showing prawns with White Spot Disease lesions Photo courtesy of Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries - White Spot Disease lesions

White spot disease is a highly contagious viral infection that affects crustaceans.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is continuing its work to drain and decontaminate seven prawn farms on the Logan River that were impacted by white spot disease.

The prawn farms avoided being inundated with water when the Logan river flooded in the days following cyclone Debbie. Heavy rainfall replenished water to some of the ponds that were in the process of being dried out as part of the decontamination process. Despite this minor set back the response remains on course.

A further, small number of crustaceans that were collected through trawling operations in March have returned positive results for white spot syndrome virus in the northern area of Moreton Bay. 

This detection is in addition to the samples that tested positive in March, that were caught near the Redcliffe Peninsula and Deception Bay, in the northern part of Moreton Bay.

The most recent detections in the same area, do not change the direction of the response, nor the Movement Control Order that remains in place.

The Movement Control Order put in place by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, extends from Caloundra to the NSW border following the eastern coasts of Bribie, Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. The control order also extends west to encompass the western borders of Gold Coast, Brisbane City Council and Moreton Bay Regional Councils.

There are no restrictions on fishing within the movement control area, however, crustaceans such as prawns, crabs, and yabbies caught within the movement control area must be cooked before they are removed from the area. You must obtain a permit from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries if you need to remove uncooked crustaceans from the movement control area.

The order also applies to worms and salt water as they can carry the disease.

The movement control order will remain in place while further testing takes place, and future disease management activities are determined. The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will continue to meet with aquaculture, commercial fishing, seafood retailers and processors, and recreational fishing groups to discuss the progress of the response and management support.

The national Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases continues to meet, and is providing technical and expert advice to Queensland as the response progresses, and when new detections occur.

National response arrangements are in place, including AQUAVETPLAN which sets out agreed destruction, disposal and decontamination activities.

Information for recreational and commercial fishers

Use of bait prawns

It is crucial that people fishing or crabbing anywhere in Australia’s waterways, do not use prawns meant for human consumption as bait.

Prawns purchased from supermarkets and other food outlets that are meant for human consumption could spread the virus.

Your assistance is needed to ensure that the virus that causes white spot disease is not introduced to waterways through infected prawns. Outbreaks of white spot disease can have devastating impacts on aquaculture businesses and potentially harm popular commercial and recreational fishing areas.

To find out about the restrictions on the use of prawns as bait in your state or territory, check with your Department of Primary Industries or Fisheries.

Movement restrictions

The new movement control order, under the Biosecurity Act 2014, replaces the existing restrictions in place on the Logan River and extends from Caloundra to the NSW border following the eastern coasts of Bribie, Moreton and Stradbroke Islands.

Uncooked crustaceans such as prawns, crabs, and yabbies cannot be moved from the movement control area without a permit. The order also applies to worms and salt water as they can carry the disease. 

To find out more about the movement restrictions that apply in the affected area in Queensland, see the QDAF website.

The movement restrictions do not apply to molluscs (oysters and mussels).

Biosecurity measures for recreational fishers

See the NSW DPI fact sheet: Make ‘clean’ part of your routine [PDF]

How to report white spot disease

It is crucial that all aquaculture operators, commercial and recreational fishers and other waterway users report unusual signs in prawns (including bait) and other crustaceans.

Early detection provides a better chance of being able to contain and eradicate this serious disease.

If you see crustaceans that you suspect have the disease it is important to take note of the location and time and report this information immediately to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Alternatively phone the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 from anywhere in Australia.

Information for prawn farmers

The information below provides advice on how to prevent a disease incursion on your farm.

On-farm biosecurity

Prawn farmers need to ensure appropriate biosecurity measures are in place on their farm which includes sourcing disease free stock and animal feed.

Make sure livestock, water, visitors and staff, and equipment that are coming onto, and leaving the farm are clean. Equipment and footwear should be disinfected in addition to being cleaned.

Disease management

All aquaculture farms should have a Disease Management Plan including standard operating procedures that can be implemented in the event of a disease outbreak.

See the QDAF website for more information about implementing a Disease Management Plan.

Financial assistance

The Rural Financial Counselling Service provides free financial counselling to primary producers and small, related businesses who are suffering financial hardship and have no alternative sources of impartial support.

The QDAF website also has further information.

Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, announced an assistance package on 26 January 2017 to help the affected industry.

Additional funding was announced on 5 May 2017 to support Australia’s prawn industry and affected producers.

More information on these assistance packages can be found on the Minister's website.

About white spot disease

White spot disease is a highly contagious viral disease of decapod crustaceans including prawns, crabs, yabbies and lobsters. The disease is caused by white spot syndrome virus.

White spot disease - Aquatic Animal Diseases Significant to Australia: Identification Field Guide

How to identify white spot disease

Photo showing prawns with White Spot Disease lesions Photos courtesy of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Photo showing prawns with White Spot Disease lesions Photos courtesy of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Prawns with white spot disease may have a loose shell with numerous white spots (0.5-2.0 mm in diameter) on the inside surface of the shell and a pink to red discolouration.

Signs to look for include:

  • unusual mortality
  • prawns coming to the edge or water surface of the pond
  • prawns demonstrating unusual swimming patterns
  • reduced feeding and failure to thrive.

How the disease can spread

The disease is primarily spread through the movement of infected animals or contaminated water. Birds that feed on and move infected animals can spread the disease.

This is why it is critical that people fishing in Australia’s waterways do not use prawns meant for human consumption as bait.

The disease effect on other species

Fin fish are not affected by the disease and are not a carrier of the disease.

Decapod crustaceans including, but not limited to, prawns, lobsters and crabs are susceptible to the infection. Marine worms are also considered to be carriers of the disease.

The white spot disease detected in south east Queensland is not the same disease that can infect ornamental/aquarium fish. White spot in aquarium fish is a parasitic skin infection and not related to white spot disease.

Where white spot disease is found

White spot disease is widespread throughout prawn farming regions in Asia and the Americas where it has caused severe losses on prawn farms.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world with a prawn farming industry that has remained free of white spot disease.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has more information:

White spot disease - Aquatic Animal Diseases Significant to Australia: Identification Field Guide

Food safety and information for consumers

Members of the public with concerns about imported or wild-caught crustaceans should be aware that white spot disease does not pose a threat to human health or food safety.

It is unlikely that white spot disease could be detected by consumers in imported prawns. The disease is not visible in prawns that do not have a head or shell. Prawns imported to Australia are required to be de-headed, and most that are supplied to retail outlets are de-shelled.

If you require further information about imported prawn product, contact the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources on 1800 900 090 or see the website.

Disease investigation and prawn import suspension

The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is still working to determine how this outbreak occurred. No definite link has been established but all possible pathways are being investigated – which are the use of infected bait in the Logan River, potentially contaminated imported feed or probiotics, or contaminated equipment.

Import suspension

In January 2017, the Director of Biosecurity suspended the import of uncooked prawns to Australia.

The Department of Agri​​culture and Water Resources is working with seafood importers and retailers to assess and manage product that was already in transit when the suspension came into effect. The department has withdrawn infected product from the marketplace and will continue to immediately remove any product confirmed as white spot positive.

Further details about the import suspension are available on the ​Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

Media statement: Department’s actions on imported prawns (10 February 2017)


In prawn farms

Disease signs were noticed on the first farm on 22 November 2016. Queensland’s Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory detected white spot syndrome virus on 30 November. Samples were also sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, and it confirmed white spot disease on 1 December. AAHL confirmed the second property as being infected on 6 December.

The third property, along with six samples from the Logan River were confirmed positive on 8 December. The fourth property was confirmed infected on 14 December, the fifth on 29 December 2016, the sixth property on 3 February 2017. The seventh farm was confirmed infected on 13 February 2017.

In wild-caught crustaceans

Since December 2016 over 19,000 wild caught samples have been tested. Up until mid March 2017, a low number of wild caught animals tested positive for the virus. The most significant detections in wild caught crustaceans have predominantly been near the mouth of the Logan river, and more recently in the northern part of Moreton Bay.

​Impact on the prawn industry

The farmed prawn industry in Queensland is worth approximately $87 million annually. The current financial loss is significant.

These response activities also have national importance. The gross value of prawn production in Australia in 2015-16 was worth $413 million, and in 2015, employed 5 000 people.

More information

Find out about interstate movement conditions and other white spot disease information that relates to your state or territory: