Media release (17 February 2017)
On 17 February 2017, the Inspector-General of Biosecurity formally advised the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources of her intention to commence a review of the circumstances leading to the 6 January 2017 suspension of uncooked prawn imports into Australia and the biosecurity considerations relevant to future trade in uncooked prawns. This suspension followed an outbreak of White Spot Disease (WSD) in commercial prawn farms near the Logan River which began in November 2016.
Scope of review
The scope of this review covers operational policy and activities relevant to biosecurity risks associated with importation of uncooked prawns and prawn meat into Australia. The review will consider the following areas:
- the effectiveness of biosecurity controls and their implementation for managing the biosecurity risks of importation of uncooked prawns and prawn meat into Australia;
- the effectiveness of post-entry surveillance measures and 'end use' import conditions for uncooked prawns and prawn meat into Australia; and
- areas for improvement in the biosecurity risk management framework and its implementation for future trade in prawns and related seafood.
Out of scope
The review will not examine:
- the economic and social impacts of the WSD outbreak and prawn trade suspension on prawn farmers, seafood importers or commercial and recreational fishermen and associated businesses and communities.
Submissions received by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity.
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WSD is caused by the White Spot Syndrome virus (WSSV). WSSV may cause prawns to develop white spots in the cuticle and a general red body discolouration, and cease feeding. In farmed prawns there is rapid onset of high mortality with up to 100 per cent of prawns dying within two to five days of the outbreak of disease.
Although not of concern to human health, WSD is one of the most important viral diseases of farmed prawns, including the black tiger prawn,
Penaeus monodon, which is farmed in Australia. WSD emerged in prawns in Taiwan in the early 1990s, from where it spread in 1993 to farmed
P. japonicus in Japan via live prawn imports. By the end of the 1990s, WSSV had become endemic throughout all countries in Asia and the Americas that had substantial prawn aquaculture industries. The spread of WSSV between countries and regions has been linked primarily to translocations of live prawns for aquaculture or to imported uncooked prawns finding their way inadvertently into aquatic environments (Durand et al. 2000; Nunan et al. 1998; quoted in AQUAVETPLAN 2013).
Before the December 2016 outbreak of WSD, the only detection of WSD previously recorded in Australia was in 2000 when three Darwin aquaculture facilities were found to be using imported prawns as aquaculture feed. The prawns had been purchased from a Darwin wholesaler on the understanding they were of Australian origin, in accordance with the facility’s policy of feeding locally caught rather than imported prawns to reduce disease risks (Biosecurity Australia 2009). As a consequence, these facilities were disinfected, but testing in Darwin Harbour revealed a small number of WSSV positive prawns and crabs, although no clinical signs of disease were evident. A month later, further testing returned no positive results. Subsequently, in 2004 a comprehensive survey of wild prawns (and other crustaceans) from 64 sites around Australia found no evidence of WSSV (East et al. 2004).
In December 2016, WSSV was confirmed in a prawn farm on the Logan River in south-east Queensland and, despite rapid chlorination and destocking of the farm, further outbreaks were progressively confirmed up to February 2017 on the six nearby prawn farms, all of which were also swiftly treated and destocked. A number of infected prawns and crabs were detected nearby in the wild and this led to closure of nearby parts of the Logan River and bay to commercial fishing for crustaceans.
Actions to contain and eradicate the WSD outbreak are being led by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, under policy guidance and determinations from the Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases, which considers that eradication is still feasible.
The management of pre-border and border biosecurity risks associated with the importation of uncooked prawns into Australia is the responsibility of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department).
In 2009, the department released a draft import risk analysis (IRA) of the import of prawns and prawn products, inviting comments from stakeholders. The final IRA
report (Biosecurity Australia 2009) was released in early 2010.
Since implementation of strengthened entry conditions for uncooked prawn imports determined by the IRA, the department has recorded some infringements, including:
- inadvertent release by the department of a consignment of prawns which tested positive to WSSV. This release was the subject of an Interim Inspector-General of Biosecurity review (Part 1 and
Part 2), and a number of recommendations were made to strengthen biosecurity
- a number of consignments of uncooked prawns which were improperly or inadequately marinated and therefore were reassigned to be either tested, cooked, re-exported or destroyed.
An enforcement operation into the actions of some importers, Operation Cattai, is currently underway.
In late December 2016, the department found high levels of retail availability of WSSV-infected prawns, and evidence that white spot infected prawns were being used as bait by recreational fishermen on the Logan River. This led the Director of Biosecurity to suspend the importation of uncooked prawns for a period of six months from 6 January 2017.
Marinated prawns were also removed from the category of ‘highly processed’ prawns, which meant that their importation was also suspended.
Subsequently a number of exemptions from this suspension (dried prawns and shelf-stable prawn-based food products, irradiated bait for aquatic use, pet fish food and aquaculture feed; and uncooked prawns sourced from Australia’s exclusive economic zone) have been made after individual risk assessments.