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.

A seventh prawn farm on the Logan River in South East Queensland has returned positive results for white spot syndrome virus – which causes white spot disease.

All prawn farms with stock in the Logan River area have now tested positive for the disease.  While disappointing, it is not unexpected given that the disease is highly contagious and easily spread.

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries  (QDAF) has begun treatment on the seventh property.  The ponds on the six previous infected farms are in the gradual process of being drained, dried out and limed as a further decontamination measure - all of which will take a number of months.

The national Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases meets regularly to provide technical and expert advice as the response in Queensland progresses. Based on current information and good progress, the committee remains of the view that the disease can be eradicated.

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

Wild catch testing​

There have been no further positive test results in prawns that have been caught in the Logan River or Moreton Bay. However, surveillance and testing is ongoing.

In the first week of February 2017, more than 100 prawns collected as part of Queensland’s ongoing surveillance activities tested positive for white spot syndrome virus - which causes white spot disease.  The prawns were caught at a location south of the mouth of the Logan River.

This cluster of infected prawns was unexpected but is being investigated. These prawns are giant tiger prawns, which are of the same variety farmed in the prawn farms affected by this outbreak. Giant tiger prawns are not normally found in that environment, so it is reasonable to assume that the prawns came from a farm.  The detection of this cluster of prawns may not indicate that the disease itself is present in the river’s wild population.

Since December last year 8,000 wild caught samples have been tested, with a very low number of animals testing positive for the virus. There is still a large amount of crustacean samples from the area undergoing testing.

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.

Movement restrictions

Movement restrictions remain in place, and apply to people fishing and others using the Logan and Albert rivers in South East Queensland. You must not move:

  • any crustaceans which includes prawns, crabs, yabbies and lobsters
  • worms
  • salt water.

Green, uncooked crustaceans may not show signs of the disease but could still be carriers.

The movement restrictions apply from the Jabiru and Luscombe Weirs to the mouth of the Logan River. These restrictions are part of urgent disease containment activities and apply under Queensland’s Biosecurity Act 2014.

A map showing where the movement restrictions apply, is available on the QDAF website.

The following items are prohibited from use in the declared biosecurity emergency area (BEA):

  • Beam trawling
  • Pots, dillies and traps for catching crabs
  • Cast nets
  • Yabby pumps
  • Implements (i.e. spades, forks) for digging for worms.

Green/raw crustaceans caught from outside the BEA and not in a sealed package can be brought into the BEA. To be taken out, they must be cooked or a permit must be obtained from Biosecurity Queensland.

Green/raw crustaceans purchased from a retail outlet outside the BEA and still in a sealed package, can transit through the BEA provided the crustaceans remain in their sealed packaging.

Penalties may apply to anyone who breaches these restrictions. To report breaches, call the 24-hour Fishwatch hotline on 1800 017 116.

Fishers are still able to catch and move fin fish in the BEA, providing all fishing gear is cleaned before leaving the area. It is important that all bait is removed from hooks and other fishing equipment before leaving.

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

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. More information 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 prawn product 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)


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, and the sixth property was confirmed on 3 February 2017.​

​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