Aquaculture Magazine

Proposed northern aquaculture facility will test for white spot prawn disease

A new biosecurity testing facility planned for Townsville will help protect the fish farming industry from disease outbreaks, experts say.

James Cook University has applied to operate a laboratory to test for infections such as the devastating white spot disease (WSD), in response to concerns the current testing facilities are unable to keep up with demand from producers.

JCU aquaculture PhD student Kelly Condon said a new testing service for northern farmers would speed up the process for getting results on worrying introduced diseases.

"For testing of exotic diseases like white spot, there's no capability outside of the south-east corner. There's one lab in Brisbane that can do the testing," she said.

"But logistics of getting samples down there and in the turnaround time required for industry to implement management protocols, they really need a regional located service."

Important service reinstated

In 2013, the Newman State Government closed the Biosecurity Queensland Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oonoonba in Townsville, despite industry fears it would endanger the burgeoning aquaculture industry.

What is white spot virus?

 Prawn with white spot disease

White spot disease in prawns is highly contagious, lethal to crustaceans and has reduced prawn farm productivity by up to 40 per cent overseas.

Dallas Donovan, chief operating officer of prawn giant Seafarms Group, said the WSD outbreak in southern Queensland showed how critical good biosecurity responses were to the industry's future.

"We have our own in-house laboratory where we do a lot of bacterial work," he said.

"We have a lot of visual tests that we run, but we also use laboratories both in Queensland and interstate."

While interstate testing can return results in less than five working days, the workload placed on Queensland laboratories means Seafarms can be left waiting up to 10 days for analysis.

"You could effectively, depending on what the disease is, [have] nothing left or it could be business as usual," Mr Donovan said.

Ms Condon said the Townsville laboratory would aim to slash those waiting times for fish farmers.

"We can get a result in 24 hours, worst case probably two or three days," she said.

"For a white spot result, it would be a high priority."


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