A NSW Government website

White Spot


Current situation

White Spot was detected in three northern NSW prawn farms in early 2023. These detections were confirmed by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP).

Consumers are assured that White Spot does not pose a threat to human health or food safety. NSW seafood, including prawns, remains safe to eat.

On-farm White Spot eradication activities were finalised in early October 2023.

Ongoing biosecurity risk mitigation measures are being delivered by NSW DPI under a Biosecurity Control Order.  These measures include a nationally supported long-term surveillance plan for the Clarence River and surrounding marine environments.

Surveillance involves four events of wild sample collection between October 2023 and April 2025. NSW DPI tests samples for evidence of white spot (WSSV). If no evidence of WSSV is found in any of the samples tested during this time, NSW will seek to declare freedom from white spot from the Clarence River Control Zone through the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Please report any unusual mortalities or suspicions of White Spot to the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline 1800 675 888 or email aquatic.biosecurity@dpi.nsw.gov.au

About White Spot

White Spot is highly contagious to prawns and other farmed crustaceans and can cause high rates of mortality in affected stock. Wild crustaceans can be carriers of White Spot, but they are rarely affected.

White Spot spread through Asian prawn farming regions rapidly in the 1990s and later was reported from prawn farms in the Americas, where it caused widespread production losses.

What biosecurity measures are in place to contain the spread of White Spot in Northern NSW?

Biosecurity measures within the Clarence River Control Zone are managed by NSW DPI under a Biosecurity Control Order (PDF, 850.63 KB) in force until 8 June 2025. This control order restricts the movement of raw, uncooked decapod crustaceans, including crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp and prawns, and polychaete or beach worms out of the Clarence River Control Zone. These restrictions are required to support Australia’s overall status of white spot freedom outside the control zones and enable business and trade continuity in NSW and other parts of Australia.

The control order also requires enhanced biosecurity measures on NSW prawn farms to boost risk management, including:

  • traceability and record keeping
  • broodstock and post-larvae testing requirements
  • appropriate feed usage and
  • stock security - screening and pond management

Clarence River Control Zone

NSW long term surveillance plan

The first round of the NSW long-term surveillance plan was completed in December 2023 and all samples tested NEGATIVE to White Spot.

Map of Clarence River Zone and surrounding waters indicating testing locations with all samples negative for white spot.

REGION

Round 1

Oct–Dec 23

SAMPLES TESTED

RESULTS

PRAWNS

CRABS

LAB RESULTS

OFFSHORE R1

3/11/2023

195

 

NEG

OFFSHORE R2

3/11/2023

200

 

NEG

OFFSHORE R3

3/11/2023

195

 

NEG

INSHORE R1

16/10/2023

27

0

NEG

INSHORE R1

27/11/2023

195

 

NEG

INSHORE R2

30/11/2023

2

 

NEG

INSHORE R2

6/12/2023

 

141

NEG

INSHORE R2

6/12/2023

 

2

NEG

INSHORE R3

16/10/2023

191

 

NEG

INSHORE R3

27/11/2023

164

 

NEG

INSHORE R4

29/11/2023

182

 

NEG

The current round of  sampling is from 11 March to 15 March 2024, in accordance with the nationally agreed plan.

A NSW DPI permit is in place to support surveillance actions.

The periods of sampling are:

Round 2 – March to April 2024 - Underway, results pending
Round 3 – October to November 2024
Round 4 – March to April 2025

NSW is continuing to engage with stakeholders throughout the implementation of this plan.

What are the characteristics of White Spot?

Signs of White Spot in aquaculture within tanks and ponds include:

  • rapid onset of mass mortality (80% or more) in farmed penaeid prawns during the grow out period
  • lethargy
  • cessation of feeding
  • aggregations of moribund prawns near the water surface at the edge of the rearing pond or tank

Prawns may display:

  • a loose carapace
  • high degrees of colour variation, with a predominance of darkened (red-brown or pink) body surface and appendages
  • white calcium deposits embedded in the shell, causing white spots 0.5 to 3.0 mm in diameter.

Please note, as with any aquatic disease, diagnosis cannot be made without appropriate laboratory testing. For information on how to submit samples for diagnosis contact NSW DPI Aquatic Biosecurity on the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline, 1800 675 888, or by email aquatic.biosecurity@dpi.nsw.gov.au.

More information on the characteristics of White Spot:

Consumer safety

Prawns are safe to eat. White Spot does NOT pose any threat to human health or food safety.

History of White Spot in Australia

In December 2016 White Spot was detected in farmed prawns in south-east Queensland. For details see www.outbreak.gov.au.

Since the outbreak of White Spot in southeast Queensland in 2016, NSW DPI has been undertaking annual surveillance in accordance with a nationally agreed Proof of Freedom program.

In August 2022 White Spot was detected in an enclosed facility at a prawn farm in northern NSW. NSW DPI acted quickly to issue formal biosecurity measures and worked closely with the farm to contain the detection within the facility. All prawns within the facility were destroyed and the facility was decontaminated. NSW DPI undertook surveillance of wild prawns in the estuarine area and offshore from the facility with no evidence of White Spot found.

Testing of broodstock from the hatchery in August 2022, found positive results from an interstate source of broodstock and NSW broodstock. As both sources tested as positive, NSW DPI was unable to conclude the actual source of infection from this detection. Molecular analysis of the samples from the hatchery suggest the White Spot in the NSW 2022 event was different from that detected in southeast Queensland in 2016 to 2017.

Investigations following the 2022 detection of White Spot in the enclosed prawn hatchery were unable to determine the origin of the virus. Surveillance testing undertaken at the time in wild prawns the estuarine area and offshore found no evidence of White Spot.

In early 2023, White Spot was detected at three prawn farms in northern NSW, leading to the current management program. Molecular analysis of the samples from the prawn farms determined high similarity of the viral strain to that detected in August 2022 in the enclosed prawn hatchery.

Subsequent investigation of wild caught samples from the 17 February 2023 indicated very low levels of white spot DNA in a small number of prawns. There is currently insufficient evidence to demonstrate the establishment of White Spot in NSW.

What else is the NSW Government doing to protect NSW aquaculture and wild stocks from White Spot?

NSW DPI continues to work closely with industry and with other states, territories and the Australian Government to help minimise the risk of White Spot spreading.

Since March 2017, NSW DPI has established a Control Order which restricts the importation into NSW of any uncooked decapod crustaceans or polychaete worms from a designated area encompassing all affected areas in south-east Queensland.

What you can do to help prevent the spread of White Spot

White Spot is declared as Prohibited Matter under Schedule 2 of the Biosecurity Act 2015. There is a duty to report the presence or suspected presence of White Spot at any place to NSW DPI, and strictly prohibits any dealings with this biosecurity matter or associated carriers.


Information for recreational fishers and members of the public

  • Never use prawns intended for human consumption as bait. Using imported raw prawns as bait may introduce serious diseases into our waterways
  • When fishing, always source your bait from a trusted bait supplier, such as a tackle shop, or catch your own#
  • It is illegal to bring bait caught in south-east Queensland to NSW, source your bait from a trusted supplier local to the area you intend to fish
  • Dispose of your prawn waste (heads or shells) in general waste, never into our waterways
  • Make ‘clean’ part of your routine (PDF, 385.23 KB), wash your vehicles and gear between waterways
  • If you catch your own bait, use it only in the water from where you caught it
  • If you are a recreational fisher, please refer to important information for recreational fishers - use of prawns as bait

Refer to NSW Fishing rules and regulations

Information for prawn farmers

  • Follow your permit conditions, including those relating to biosecurity
  • report any unusual mortalities or suspicions of White Spot to the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888 or a local Fisheries Officer as soon as possible, and within 24 hours
  • Ensure your Biosecurity Plan is up-to-date based on current biosecurity requirements and guidelines and being implemented to minimise the risks of aquatic disease entering your property
  • Use separate equipment where practical. If unable, please decontaminate minimise unnecessary visitors to production areas of your farm and find out where delivery trucks and other visitors have previously visited before accepting them on site
  • DPI Primefact - NSW Prawn Farms: Enhanced biosecurity measures

Information for seafood processors and bait suppliers

  • Be aware of the control order currently in place on uncooked prawns, decapod crustaceans (including lobsters, crabs, slipper lobsters, Moreton Bay bugs) and polychaete worms (including beach worms) originating from within the Clarence River Control Area and an area between Caloundra and Tweed Heads in south-east Queensland.
  • Ensure that you are not buying or selling uncooked prawns, decapod crustaceans, or polychaete worms (for bait or human consumption) in NSW that have been sourced from within the Clarence River Control Area or the affected area in south-east Queensland, unless they have been treated in accordance with the control order.
  • Movement (or transiting through) control areas into NSW (or to other areas of NSW) of uncooked decapod crustaceans destined for human consumption only, not bait, can only occur if they have originated from outside the control areas, the packaging remains secure, the grower and packer details are clearly displayed and they are transported directly to a point of sale in NSW for human consumption.
  • Note: there are no movement restrictions on cooked decapod crustaceans that are securely packaged and transported directly to a point of sale in NSW.

Information for commercial fishers

  • The Control Order prohibits the movement into NSW of uncooked prawns, decapod crustaceans, and polychaete worms (marine worms) originating from both
    • the Clarence River Control Zone, and
    • the area between Caloundra and Tweed Heads in south east Queensland .
  • Certain high value decapod crustaceans, including lobsters, mud crabs, blue swimmer crabs, spanner crabs, and slipper lobsters (Moreton Bay bugs), are classified as excluded carriers and may be moved out of the control zone uncooked subject to these conditions:
    • It is being moved for human consumption
    • It is cooked by the end consumer as soon as possible after arriving at its destination, and
    • If it is alive, it is not placed in waters to which the Fisheries Management Act 1994 applies.
  • You are required to ensure that:
    • Any water used for the transport of the excluded carrier is disposed of through a public sewer
    • Any waste produced for the transport of the excluded carrier is disposed of at a waste depot.
    • The transportation of the excluded carrier is accompanied by documents which state the date the excluded carrier was captured or harvested and the location in the Control Zone where it was captured or harvested.
  • Fittings used in the control areas in connection with cultivation or commercial catch of live or dead decapod crustaceans or polychaete worms are also prohibited from entry into NSW unless they are cleaned in accordance with a protocol approved by the NSW Chief Veterinary Officer.
  • If trading interstate, check with the appropriate state for their restrictions as they differ from state to state.


Interstate Trade restrictions

Other states have imposed different trade restrictions on uncooked prawns, decapod crustaceans and polychaete worms. Please check the relevant fisheries website - see www.outbreak.gov.au for more information.

Report any signs of unusual mortality or other suspicions of White Spot

If you suspect White Spot, call the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Hotline: 1800 675 888



FAQs


What surveillance has been done?

Surveillance within the Clarence River Estuary commenced on 16 February 2023. No confirmed cases of White Spot have been found in the estuary. Trace level DNA was detected in a small number of wild caught prawns sampled in the Clarence River estuary on 17 February.

Confirmatory retesting was undertaken at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) national reference laboratory following discussion at a national Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Disease meeting in June 2023. This retesting found trace level DNA in five prawns (sampled on 17 February 2023) from the indeterminate results that were reported by EMAI.

White spot viral DNA was detected in the five prawns following additional testing of indeterminate samples by ACDP. However, the source of this viral DNA cannot be conclusively determined, and it is not possible to distinguish between very low levels of virus, or fragments of viral DNA.

NSW DPI has now clarified with ACDP that in future, a consistent and agreed process is followed for all testing to deliver clear results which are more rapidly available, should any indeterminate results be found through the NSW DPI surveillance.

The ACDP retesting results remain consistent with the initial NSW DPI findings that only low levels of viral DNA were detected in wild crustaceans in the Clarence River estuary.

Clarification of testing protocols with ACDP confirms NSW’s ability to continue to implement the long-term surveillance plan to determine if self-declaration of freedom from white spot can be made, according to the requirements of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

Prawn farm surveillance and DNA sequencing tests indicate the strain of White Spot virus detected on prawn farms in February 2023 shows strong similarity to the strain detected in NSW in August 2022. It is not the same as the south-east Queensland strain detected in 2016.

NSW DPI has undertaken extensive sampling of wild caught prawns and crabs from the Clarence River Estuary for White Spot with no positive detections found in more than 2500 samples.

A surveillance plan to support a self-declaration of freedom from White Spot in the Clarence River Control Zone, has been approved by the national Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Disease (AqCCEAD). This surveillance plan is consistent with the Australian Aquatic Veterinary Emergency Plan (AQUAVETPLAN) Disease Strategy - White Spot disease and the WOAH Aquatic Animal Health Code.

If White Spot is not detected during this surveillance, NSW will seek to ‘self-declare’ freedom from White Spot and revoke the current Control Order.

If White Spot is detected, NSW DPI will work closely with affected industry stakeholders and other Australian jurisdictions to determine appropriate steps.

What are the consequences for the industry?

White Spot causes major impacts on the prawn farming and prawn fishing communities and associated industries on which many people rely to make a living.

NSW DPI has worked closely with the affected prawn farms, commercial fishing industry and our state and federal counterparts to contain and manage this detection. Formal control measures restrict the movement of raw, uncooked decapod crustaceans from an area defined as the Clarence River Control Zone, and requires enhanced biosecurity measures on NSW prawn farms, while containment, source detection and surveillance activities are underway.

What should people look for?

Prawns with White Spot may have:

  • a loose carapace
  • high degrees of colour variation, with a predominance of darkened (red-brown or pink) body surface and appendages
  • white calcium deposits embedded in the shell, causing white spots 0.5 – 3.0 mm in diameter

Who should people contact if they suspect a prawn has White Spot?

Biosecurity is a shared responsibility. Everybody plays a part in safeguarding Australia’s and NSW’s biosecurity to help protect our economy, environment, community and reputation as a clean and safe producer of healthy seafood.

If you suspect White Spot in NSW prawns, please call the Emergency Animal Disease 24-hour Hotline, 1800 675 888.

More information about White Spot can be found on the Australian Government outbreak.gov.au website.

How long will the renewed NSW Biosecurity Control Order it be in place?

The Control Order restricting the movement of raw, uncooked decapod crustaceans and polychaete worms from the Clarence River Control Zoneis in place until June 2025, to support business and trade continuity in NSW and other parts of Australia.

During this two-year period  a nationally agreed  surveillance plan is underway. NSW management of white spot will be reassessed following outcomes  of the surveillance.

Is the closure still in place in south-east Queensland for the sale of green product?

Yes, restrictions have been in place since 2017. In Queensland, movement restrictions have been in place for high-risk animals such as prawns, yabbies and marine worms. This means they cannot be moved out of the Queensland White Spot disease restricted area unless cooked first.

How has Queensland managed movement controls over othercrustaceans?

In Queensland, after extensive testing, it was declared the crabs, lobsters and bugs were exempt from the restrictions and may be removed from the restricted area if destined for human consumption. These high value species are predominantly used for the sole purpose of being eaten, so the risk of them being returned to natural waterways and spreading White Spot is insignificant.

When will Queensland lift their control orders on the movement of prawns?

In Queensland it has been considered that movement restrictions will remain in place while they are still considered an effective means of control and containment for the disease to the defined region. Negative results for the virus from a minimum two-year surveillance program is needed to return Queensland to an internationally recognised White Spot free status.

Can I harvest school prawns from the Clarence estuary?

Yes, you can continue to harvest school prawns. However, all produce including prawns, yabbies and polychaetae worms, must be cooked in the Clarence River Control Zone.

A Control Order on the movement of green prawns has been put in place to reduce the likelihood of spreading. Currently this means that raw prawns, yabbies, nippers, shrimp and polychaete worms cannot be removed from the Clarence River Control Zone.

What will the order protect?

The Control Order restricts the movement of uncooked prawns that could potentially impact other estuaries such as the Hawkesbury and Hunter estuary prawn trawl fisheries and numerous Estuary General prawn fisheries throughout NSW.

Does white spot pose any threat to human health or foodsafety?

No. White Spot disease is a major biosecurity threat to prawns and other crustaceans, but it does not pose a threat to human health or food safety. Prawns sold for human consumption are still safe to eat.

Can high value crustaceans from the Control Zone (speciessuch as mud crabs, lobsters, etc) continue to be caught and sold as uncooked?

Yes, raw high valued crustaceans defined as ‘excluded carriers’ under the Control Order can be moved uncooked into and within NSW, including for sale purposes, provided that:

  • It is being moved for human consumption
  • It is cooked by the end consumer as soon as possible after arriving at its destination, and
  • If it is alive, it is not placed in waters to which the Fisheries Management Act 1994 applies.

You are required to ensure that:

  • Any water used for the transport of the excluded carrier is disposed of through a public sewer,
  • Any waste produced for the transport of the excluded carrier is disposed of at a waste depot,
  • The transportation of the excluded carrier is accompanied by documents which state:
    • The date the excluded carrier was captured or harvested, and
    • The location in the Control Zone where it was captured or harvested.

Does NSW DPI have a surveillance program?

Yes, DPI has participated in the national White Spot surveillance program since the Queensland detection. White Spot has not been detected in NSW waters before this current 2023 event.

Additionally, DPI is implementing a nationally agreed NSW long term surveillance plan, see Fact sheet for more details

How are decisions made with respect to control orders and closures?

On the initial report, assessments are undertaken to review each individual case. White Spot disease in Australia is guided by the agreed national disease strategy – AQUAVETPLAN – Disease Strategy White Spot

Once suspicion of White Spot disease has been confirmed, the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer (ACVO) is notified and the relevant agency and ACVO request a meeting of the Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Disease (AqCCEAD).

AqCCEAD membership comprises the ACVO, state and territory chief veterinary officers or directors of fisheries and representatives from the relevant Australian Government authority and the CSIRO Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.

AqCCEAD shares information and makes decisions on the management of an emergency aquatic animal disease incident until it decides the disease or threat no longer exists, or a national response is no longer required. NSW DPI uses the Biosecurity Act 2015 to enact legal instruments (such as a control order) based on the biosecurity risk. A control order can be made by the Minister if there is reasonable belief it is necessary to prevent, eliminate, minimize or manage a biosecurity risk or impact.

NSW DPI issued a Control Order on 16 February 2023 to restrict the movement of raw, uncooked prawns, other decapod crustaceans (such as crabs and lobsters) and polychaete worms from the Clarence River Control Zone. This will remain in force until June 2025.

How is NSW DPI proactively working with the industry and Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC)?

NSW DPI is working closely with industry and FRDC to better manage impacts of White Spot. This includes active extension programs to increase awareness in the industry.

NSW DPI is actively communicating with recreational fishers to stress the importance of never using prawns intended for human consumption as bait and delivering important information  to help protect the prawn industry.


How does the current Control Order relate to recreational fishers in the Clarence River Control Zone?

This Control Order applies to everyone who fishes within the Clarence River Control Zone, including recreational fishers and anyone who catches, handles or uses:

  • Prawns (including school, tiger and banana prawns)
  • Yabbies, nippers and shrimp (used as fishing bait)
  • Lobsters and Moreton Bay bugs (often wild caught for human consumption)
  • Crabs (including Blue Swimmer, Mud, Hermit and three-spotted crabs)
  • Marine worms

If I purchase raw prawns, yabbies, lobsters, crabs or beach worms from a store, how does the movement restriction apply to me? Can I move these purchased products out of the Control Zone?

Yes, if you purchase these products at a store in NSW, you are free to move them.

Can I move uncooked excluded carrier species outside of the Control Zone?

Yes, you can move uncooked excluded carriers from the Control Zone into and within NSW provided that:

  • It is being moved for human consumption
  • It is cooked as soon as possible after arriving at its destination, and
  • If it is alive, it is not placed in waters to which the Fisheries Management Act 1994 applies.

Excluded carrier species include:

  • blue swimmer crab (Portunus armatus),
  • bug (Ibacus spp. and Thenus spp.),
  • mud crab (Scylla spp.),
  • red champagne lobster (Linuparus trigonus),
  • slipper lobster (Scyllarides spp.),
  • spanner crab (Ranina ranina),
  • three-spotted crab (Portunus sanguinolentus),
  • rocklobster (family Palinuridae).

If I catch prawns, yabbies, lobsters, crabs or marine worms in the Clarence River Control Zone can I move them out of the Control Zone?

No, unless:

  • The products are cooked in the zone and
  • They are for commercial sale, not personal use or
  • They are listed as an excluded carrier in the Control Order.

Excluded carriers can be moved out of the Control Zone if the conditions in the Control Order are followed.

If I catch decapod crustaceans, such as prawns, as a recreational fisher, can I cook them within the Control Zone and eat them?

Yes, cooking carried out by recreational anglers within the zone and then eaten is permitted. This is strictly limited to ‘within the zone’ and can only occur on a boat using personal equipment.

A recreational fisher cannot take these crustaceans home to cook – that is prohibited under the Control Order.

If I catch decapod crustaceans as a recreational fisher, can I take them out of the zone and cook them?

No. Cooking must be carried out in an approved (licenced) food business and be for commercial sale, not personal use.

I have uncooked prawns, yabbies, lobsters, crabs or beach worms that did not come from the Clarence River Control Zone. Can I move these uncooked products through the Control Zone?

Yes, as long as:

  • They are not live decapod crustaceans
  • They are intended for commercial sale, not personal use
  • They came from outside the Control Zone and have only entered the Control Zone to transit through it
  • They are transported by the most direct route to the destination
  • They are transported in a way that prevents any contamination with White Spot disease, and
  • They are packaged and labelled with the location of where they were grown, capture or harvested, and the details of who the grower or fisher was that produced or harvested them.