Fishers tackling disease misconceptions
THE misconception that a highly contagious disease in crustaceans is exclusive to coastal areas is being tackled in an urgent bid to help restrict and contain the viral infection over the festive season.
White spot could be spread if infected crustaceans - often used in recreational fishing over the holidays - were moved out of the restriction zone.
Stanthorpe Bluewater Fishing and Restocking Club President Ernie Jones said that it was crucial to deal with the issue as many people did not realise that white spot on prawns also affected yabbies.
"It's not just a coastal problem.
"It's possible for white spot to infect any crustacean,” Mr Jones said.
"A lot of blokes who fish freshwater use saltwater yabbies as bait, and, if you bring uncooked saltwater yabbies in - even if they're frozen - it doesn't kill the spore in white spot.
"And the chances are, you'll infect the crustaceans in the fresh water.
"It's important as white spot restricts the growth of the animals. You can still eat them but it stunts their growth and it is't good for the species at all.”
Recreational fishers could spread white spot disease to fresh water lakes and dams if bait is moved out of the white spot restricted area.
Mr Jones said the Stanthorpe fishing club had stopped using saltwater yabbies, prawns or worms, and only used freshwater shrimps or freshwater yabbies as bait.
"Hopefully we can keep our little domain pristine,” he said.
He said that if the salt water crustaceans were cooked for three to four minutes, they could be used for bait, but freezing them did not kill the virus.
If the disease - which poses no threat to humans or food safety - wasn't controlled, Mr Jones said local fish stocks and the natural environment could be impacted as when found in high intensity production areas, white spot resulted in rapid mortality of prawns.
Holiday-makers are being urged to buy their bait from a bait supplier in the location they are staying, rather than bringing their own bait.
Unwanted seafood scraps must be put in bins and not waterways as uncooked prawn waste could introduce disease.
Mr Jones said the goal was to eradicate white spot, and the last surveillance carried out in September as far north as Cairns returned negative results.
"But there is still a disease status. We need to test repetitively for two years to be confirmed free of the disease.”
He said white spot had started 12 months ago in the Logan River area where seven prawn farms became infected, but there had been no confirmed cases in the Stanthorpe region.
Biosecurity Queensland White Spot Disease Program Director Kerrod Beattie said restrictions were currently in place from Caloundra to the New South Wales border and west to Ipswich.
The white spot virus does not affect fish or other marine animals and is primarily spread by affected animals and contaminated water.
Prawns with white spot 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.
"The only way people can take their catch of prawns or yabbies out of the restricted area is to cook them first,” Mr Beattie said.
"Diseases like white spot disease could have a devastating impact on our rivers and oceans and we need to play our part to protect them for the future.
"There are heavy penalties for anyone caught moving raw prawns, yabbies or marine and blood worms out of the restricted area.”
For more information visit www.daf.qld.gov.au/wsd or phone the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on 132523.