Fishers worst fears are realised as white spot disease spreads north from Logan River

DISEASE SPREADS NORTH: A prawn infected with white spot disease.
DISEASE SPREADS NORTH: A prawn infected with white spot disease.

FISHERS’ worst fears have been realised, with the exotic white spot disease in prawns now out of control in Moreton Bay.

It leaves scientists no prospect of controlling the deadly disease which may die out naturally as has previously occurred during a Darwin outbreak.

Fisheries Minister Bill Byrne announced today that the disease had been found from the mouth of the Logan River north to Redcliffe and Deception Bay.

Broadscale restrictions are now in place for amateur and commercial fishers from the NSW border to Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, including North and South Stradbroke islands, Moreton and Bribie.

Fishing, crabbing and prawn catching can continue in Moreton Bay, including the Logan and Albert Rivers, but it will be illegal for people to move uncooked crabs, prawns, yabbies, Moreton Bay bugs or marine worms – which can carry the disease – out of the area.

Wild caught and farmed prawns were safe to eat.

Chief Biosecurity officer Jim Thompson said people wishing to move these species would have to cook them first.

“Cooking the animals destroys the virus that causes white spot disease,’’ he said.

Dr Thompson said the spread from the Logan River area north placed the state’s $120 million aquaculture industry at threat.

The farmed prawn component makes up $90 million, with all seven farms on the Logan River having been closed down by the disease.

“The first step which we are implementing today is to place a movement control order on the broader Moreton Bay region,’’ Dr Thompson said. “We will then conduct additional intensive surveillance for the virus.’’

“To ensure that fishing and the local trade in fresh Moreton Bay seafood can continue, the movement control area will also encompass the western borders of the Gold Coast City Council, Brisbane City Council, and Moreton Bay Regional Councils.

Mr Byrne said the restriction on movement would be in place for three months to allow the government to contain any potential spread of the virus, conduct further testing and determine action.

“A comprehensive public information and education strategy will be used to inform the community about the restrictions that will apply.

“To the end of February the Queensland Government has spent $8.645 million on emergency response activities, guided at all times by the national Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases.

“The strategy is endorsed by the federal government and supported by the experts who have guided our response activities to date.’’

An independent expert advisory panel warned the government this week the disease spread would have significant long term implications.

“The good news from the report is that there is no evidence that the virus has impacted on the wild catch of prawns and other crustaceans, even in countries where the prevalence of infection very high. However, it does highlight that limiting the risk of spread should be a priority,’’ Mr Byrne said.