Barnaby Joyce announces suspension on green prawn imports

FEDERAL Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce has announced a suspension on the importation of green prawns into Australia following an outbreak of white spot disease in Queensland.

Mr Joyce spoke about the suspension to the ABC today which comes amid concerns about the potential spread of white spot disease that was detected on raw prawns sold in Australia.

Mr Joyce said it was possible imported green prawns were responsible for a white spot disease outbreak detected at prawn farms in Queensland.

“What we have is a white spot disease – it is not dangerous to humans but it is very deadly to prawns,” he told ABC television.

“We have about a $360 million a year prawn industry – we got a detection of white spot disease – or what we thought was white spot disease back in November around about the 22nd of November and on the 1st of December it was confirmed that it was white spot.

“Yesterday it was made aware to me, I was told that they are detecting white spot in imported green prawns that you buy in the shop for human consumption.

“That to me is a huge concern.”

Mr Joyce said he was concerned because people had a tendency to use prawns as bait meaning the disease could find its way into waterways and impact prawn farms.

He said he came straight to Canberra yesterday to deal with the issue – breaking from a family holiday – and after speaking to the Secretary of his department decided to place a suspension on green prawn imports into Australia “to try and get on top of this issue straight away”.

Mr Joyce said the trade of green prawn imports was valued at about $50 million per year.

He said one importer had already had their importation licence revoked and his department is also investigating other importers that have not followed importation protocols.

“I’m making sure that all in sundry are aware of this process and now we are doing everything in our power to make sure we deal with this and try and nip this in the bud,” he said.

“We are now chlorinating where those infected farms are, to try and remove the disease form there.”

Mr Joyce said there had been an incursion of white spot in Darwin 2000 and “we did overcome it”.

He said rivers were also being dragged in the areas where the disease had been detected and out of 6000 samples had only found four prawns with white spot.

“Basically in the wild….at those numbers…t is not a viable virus and generally the prawns die and get eaten by fish, the ones that have white spot,” he said.

“Nonetheless it is a major concern.”

“Biosecurity is incredibly important to this nation and this is an incredibly important industry.

“White spot is not dangerous to humans; it’s obviously dangerous to prawns."

“What I can say to people if you’re buying green prawns or you’ve bought green prawns from the retail outlets please do not put them in a waterway or use them as bait; they are bought for human consumption.

“If you cook a prawn, it kills the white spot in any case.”

It’s understood the suspension will remain in place until the Director of Biosecurity is satisfied that the risk of prawns affected by white spot making their way into Australia is acceptably low.

The white spot disease outbreak is only in Queensland’s Logan and Albert River area, while experts consider the outbreak is eradicable and the disease has not established in the wild.

All prawn farms in those areas - including those where white spot has not been detected - have been placed under quarantine with movement restrictions in place.

It’s also understood action is being taken against one importer and criminal charges are being pursued while a further four importers are under investigation.

Mr Joyce said white spot had been detected in a crab that was in one of the drain ways of one of the affected farms but they were also being chlorinated to “basically kill everything that’s there”.

He said department officers were also working in the area to help eradicate the disease in a “prompt and thorough manner”.

“We are not saying that the white spot on these farms came from imported green prawns - but there is a possibility that it could have and we have to make sure that that possibility is removed and that’s why we’re suspending the importation of green prawns,” he said.

Mr Joyce declined to say how long he expected the suspension to be in place but said he wanted to get to a point where the risk was minimised and the disease was eradicated and did not spread.