White spot disease

​​​​​​​​Current situation

Photo showing prawns with White Spot Disease lesions Photo showing prawns with White Spot Disease lesionsPhotos 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 has completed its treatment and discharge on all infected prawn farms in South East Queensland. These farms will lay fallow for one year to further assist with the eradication of the virus that causes white spot disease.

State-wide surveillance for the virus conducted between April and September returned all negative results. Testing was conducted to ensure the disease has not spread from the area where it was detected previously in South East Queensland.

Surveillance for farmed and wild prawns in northern NSW waters has also been completed with negative test results, indicating the disease may not be established in the Moreton Bay region and has not spread to other areas of Queensland, or other jurisdictions.

Surveillance will recommence in 2018.

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. 

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

Information for recreational and commercial fishers

Biosecurity measures

Use of bait prawns

It is crucial that people fishing or crabbing anywhere in Australia’s waterways, do not use prawns intended 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.

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

Movement restrictions

On 16 June 2017 the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) replaced the Movement Control Order with new biosecurity legislation to contain white spot disease and prevent new outbreaks. 

The new legislation maintains movement restrictions for high-risk animals such as prawns, yabbies and marine worms out of the white spot restricted area that extends from Caloundra to the NSW border and west to Ipswich.

To provide a level of protection to prawn farms, QDAF has introduced fishing restrictions within 100 metres of the inlet and outlet channels, and in all prawn farm drainage channels in the Logan River region.

An exemption now exists for low-risk species: spanner crabs, three spotted crabs, blue swimmer crabs, mud crabs, red champagne lobster, slipper lobster, tropical rock lobster, red claw and bugs. They can now be moved out of the restricted area raw, however anyone wishing to move these species out of Queensland must check the importation requirements of the destination state before doing so.

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

To find out more about the current movement restrictions in Queensland and to download the map, see the QDAF website.

Listen to Dr Jim Thompson from QDAF explain the new movement restrictions

Restrictions that apply in other states and territories

The NSW Department of Primary Industry has issued two Importation Orders​

The Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has Import requirements in place. 

Primary Industries and Regions South Australia has restrictions that apply to bait/berley​

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 financial assistance packages on 26 January, 5 May and on 15 August 2017.

More information on these assistance packages can be found on the Minister Joyce'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 Photo courtesy of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Photo showing prawns with White Spot Disease lesions Photo 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 intended 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

People 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.

White spot disease can only be diagnosed through appropriate laboratory testing. Infected prawns and yabbies may not display any symptoms and white spots may appear for a range of reasons including, freezer burn and bacterial and fungal infections.

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.

Review of import conditions

In January 2017, the Director of Biosecurity suspended the import of uncooked prawns to Australia. Imports resumed on 7 July 2017 under enhanced import conditions that allow for safe trade in prawns and prawn products.

The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is undertaking a comprehensive review of the biosecurity risks and import conditions for prawns and prawn products, including the prawn Import Risk Analysis that was released in 2010.

You can get further information on both the enhanced import conditions and the import conditions review on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resourceswebsite.


Disease 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.

Positive detections in wild-caught crustaceans

Since December 2016 over 26,000 wild caught samples have been tested in Queensland, and 1,350 in NSW.

A low number of wild caught crustaceans caught in the Logan River and Moreton Bay, within the Queensland movement restricted area, tested positive for the virus. The last positive detection was in prawn samples collected near the mouth of Brisbane River on 12 April 2017. The most significant detections in wild caught crustaceans were predominantly been near the mouth of the Logan river, and in the northern part of Moreton Bay.

Surveillance in Moreton Bay was conducted in August, and in the Logan River in September 2017 to determine if the virus had spread from where it had previously been detected.  All samples tested negative.

Surveillance will resume early 2018.

To date, all samples collected outside the Queensland movement restricted area have tested negative.

Impact on the prawn industry

The farmed prawn industry in Queensland is worth approximately $87 million annually. 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: