THE Sunshine Coast seafood industry is on alert following the discovery of white spot virus in prawns in Moreton Bay.
Although the virus has not been confirmed in the region's prime brand, the Mooloolaba king prawn, there are concerns about the potential impact that white spot in Moreton Bay could have on the region's prawn population.
The State Government has implemented a movement control order preventing the transport of raw crustaceans from a zone between Caloundra and the New South Wales border to try and limit the spread of the virus.
Most Mooloolaba-based prawn trawlers operate north of Moreton Bay, out of the control zone.
However, the spread of white spot from the Logan River to Moreton Bay in the space of months has raised concerns about the potential for further contamination.
Trawler owner Paul Williams described Moreton Bay as the region's prawn "nursery" and was concerned about the impact of white spot on future stocks in the east coast fishery.
Mr Williams said if white spot took hold in Moreton Bay and reduced the prawn population, it could be difficult to sustain commercial prawning as well.
"Does it affect the biomass? Does it affect the wellbeing of the stock? That's an area of concern, the potential collapse of the east coast fishery," Mr Williams said.
He was also concerned about the possible damage to the Mooloolaba king prawn brand.
He said although there had been no suggestion that the white spot had been found in Mooloolaba king prawns, and white spot was not harmful to humans, some people were already wary.
"We've had people say to us, 'Can't we eat prawns any more?'"
Mr Williams said the problem could have been avoided if contaminated prawns had not been allowed into Australia in the first place.
"The tragedy of it is that we asked the government not to have imports from countries that have had the virus," he said.
Another local trawler operator, Darren Ward, was equally annoyed that the industry's concerns about the potential for the introduction of white spot through imported prawns had been ignored.
"We've been fighting this for 15 years. We pushed to stop the importation of prawns and they keep bringing it in, bringing it in," Mr Ward said.
"We kept pushing for years and years. It was only a matter of time before it was going to happen, not if, but when it was going to happen.
"We always said, 'Stop bringing them in. Stop bringing them in. We've got plenty of prawns here in Australia'."
Mr Ward said the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries was still not acting fast enough to limit the spread of white spot.
He said most prawning in Moreton Bay was for bait and was concerned that white spot could be spread through bait packets already for sale in Queensland and interstate.
"That bait has only got to be thrown in one more river down the coast and you could have this all the way down the east coast," he said.
"That's the big fear and I hope somebody jumps on it quick.
"The department should have had that pulled in already. It's too late to stop it now. The packets are already in freezers."
Queensland Seafood Industry Association chief executive officer Eric Perez said the organisation's priority at the moment was to identify and support affected operators in Moreton Bay.
Mr Perez called for the public to support them by buying Moreton Bay, which can be transported out of the control zone if it has been cooked, which kills the white spot virus.
"These are all family-run businesses, providing support to the local community. This is not a good development for them."
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