LOGAN River prawn growers say their futures hang in the balance, not knowing when they can begin restocking empty ponds or what government imposed conditions will be placed on the operation of their farms.
Likening the impact of the unprecedented outbreak of white spot disease in prawns as similar to foot-and-mouth disease in livestock, the seven farm businesses have been brought to a stand still, leaving owners with no income and an uncertain future.
Under biosecurity laws some 10 million prawns were destroyed after white spot was detected. That included the disposal of valuable breeding stock, in the attempt to eliminate the calamitous disease.
Making matters worse is the rock bottom confidence the farmers have in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the supposed gate keeper charged with keeping deadly diseases out of Australia.
Growers told LNP opposition leader Tim Nicholls who visited Gold Coast Marine Aquaculture at Woongoolba this afternoon, that it was quarantine inspection services had failed the industry. Infected green prawns had been allowed into Australia despite repeated warning of the biosecurity risk they represented.
The assembled growers told Mr Nicholls the most likely source of the disease was imported green prawns used as fishing bait.
“What is certain is it not from here,” said Steve Parker from Prawn Park. “It came with imported green prawns.”
The farmers said until the outbreak, importers had been allowed to submit their own test result for imported prawns. A massive jump from a 17 per cent infection rate under the self-testing model to a staggering 70pc infection rate under an ‘enhanced’ inspection regime suggested at least some importers were deliberately abusing the system, they said.
Following the detection of white spot in the farmed green prawns, the department banned imports of green prawns and ordered a recall of all imported green prawns.
Gold Coast Marine Aquaculture operations manager Alistair Dick said while the recall was welcome, it was also an admission of guilt by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Mr Dick said, likewise, the department’s sudden issuing of warnings that green prawns should not be used as fishing bait also pointed to a failure in quarantine responsibilities.
“White spot is by far the most destructive prawn disease,” Mr Dick said.
“But it’s only blind luck that harder to eradicate diseases have not emerged.
“The failure of AQIS (now part of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) and the ability of importers to abuse the regulations has made Australia a dumping ground for prawns that are banned in other countries including the US.”
Serena Zipf from Rocky Point Prawn Farm said the priority was keeping the labour force intact.
Skills are have been developed that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to replace, she said.
“The source of the outbreak of white spot disease in south-east Queensland has not been determined,” the department advised.
“There are a number of possible pathways, such as contaminated imported feed, probiotics, contaminated equipment, overseas visitors, poor on-farm biosecurity practices, and brood stock, as well as imported uncooked prawns used as bait.”