Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has this morning bowed to pressure from prawn farmers and indefinitely banned importation of the frozen crustacean, following an outbreak of the devastating white spot disease in Queensland.
Farmers have been lobbying for the suspension of Asian prawn imports following the discovery of the disease in five separate locations of the Logan River, south of Brisbane, last month.
Australia had previously been free of the disease, which is deadly for prawns but harmless to humans.
Mr Joyce told ABC TV on Friday Australia imported about $50 million in prawns annually.
“Yesterday I was told that they are detecting white spot in imported green prawns that you buy in the shop for human consumption,” Mr Joyce said.
“But that, for me, is a huge concern. It has the capacity to devastate the industry.”
Mr Joyce said he was concerned the prawns infected prawns could make it into the waterways, further spreading the disease in Australian prawn farms.
The biosecurity minister urged people who have bought raw green prawns not to put them in water ways, like using them as bait for fishing, with fears it could contaminate local prawns.
Mr Joyce said a white spot disease outbreak could devastate Australia’s $360 million prawn industry.
The suspension would remain in place indefinitely until risks were minimised, but
“I would rather deal with this action than ... the ramifications that we didn’t take all mechanisms at our disposal to try to make sure that we eradicate the disease, and stop the possibility of further spread of the disease,” he said.
Commercial fishers toldABC Radiolast month they had warned authorities of the disease risk from uncooked Asian prawn imports for years, with no response.
Australian Prawn Farmers Association spokesman Matt West told the broadcaster they had been lobbying “pretty hard to try and change it”.
“As far as we’re aware, green product coming in has to be tested,” he said.
“But ultimately you can’t stop everything and that’s always a risk to us.”