White Spot Disease

White spot disease (WSD) is an internationally notifiable disease of crustaceans caused by White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV). WSD causes up to 100% mortality on prawn farms throughout Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East. WSSV infects a wide range of decapod crustaceans and is considered exotic to Australia.

On 22nd November 2016 a WSSV incursion was first reported in Black Tiger Prawns (Penaeus monodon) grown on a prawn farm taking water from the Logan River, SE QLD. The exotic virus proved to be highly contagious and subsequently spread to infect all operational prawn farms in the area by February 2017. These farms lost all stocked prawns during a disinfection program undertaken to contain and eradicate the virus. Surveillance conducted by Biosecurity Queensland during March 2017 also detected WSSV in wild commercially caught prawns and crabs in the Logan River and north-western parts of Moreton Bay (over 70 km north of the Logan River). The most likely pathway for introduction of WSSV into Moreton Bay is widely considered to be through using imported uncooked prawns infected with WSSV as bait or burley by recreational fishers.

In response to the incursion, in 2017 a White Spot biosecurity control zone was established that restricted movements of uncooked crustacean products out of Moreton Bay. This resulted in significant impacts on the commercial fishing industries in Moreton Bay that supplied bait prawns and bloodworms. In an attempt at eradication of WSSV, all prawn farms on the Logan River were required to cease production for the 2017-18 growing season.

WSSV was detected NW Moreton Bay in the late summer of 2018 and most recently in March 2020. In April 2020 WSD was also recorded on prawn farms adjacent to the Logan River.

In October 2017, the FRDC ran a White Spot Disease R&D Needs Workshop - see report.

In response to the WSD outbreak FRDC implemented the following projects to support the prawn farming and wild catch sector and provide clear direction towards planning for future recovery for affected farms and fisheries; improving farm biosecurity and protecting the biosecurity of areas away from the Moreton Bay White Spot biosecurity control zone.


Current and recently completed research


Field observations and assessment of the response to an outbreak of White Spot Disease (WSD) in Black Tiger Prawns (Penaeus monodon) farmed on the Logan River in November 2016.

Status – Completed.


Assessing compliance and efficacy of import conditions for green (raw) prawn in relation to White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV).

Status – Completed, including supplementary report

2016-066 - Supplementary report: Assessing compliance and efficacy of import conditions for uncooked prawn in relation to White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) through testing retail commodities and comparison of stringency of import measures with other imported commodities into Australia


Prawn White Spot Disease Response Plan.

Status – Completed.


Economic Impact of 2016 White Spot Disease Outbreak - summary overview

Status – Near completion. Near final data based upon information provided by affected farmers and fishers provided to Ridge Partners.


Collation of white spot syndrome virus testing from wild-caught re-imported prawns

Status – Completed


White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) preparedness for biosecurity awareness and adoption of best practice by the NSW and QLD wild catch commercial fishers - understanding what extension pathways work best.

Status – Commenced.


Past research


Prawn Superpowers Summit - enhancing awareness of emergency aquatic animal disease response arrangements for the Australian prawn farming industry


Seafood Incident Response Plan 2012


Tactical Research Fund - Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: determining the susceptibility of Australian species of prawns to infectious myonecrosis


Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: Enhancing the emergency disease response capability of WA Department of Fisheries and industry bodies associated with freshwater crayfish culture


Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: subprogram conference `Emergency Disease Response Planning and Management


Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: enhancement of emergency disease management through the education and training of the CCEAD participants on the CCEAD process


Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: production of an AQUAVETPLAN disease strategy manual for white spot disease of all WSV-susceptible crustaceans


White spot in prawns - There are two conditions of prawns called white spot – this project was about the white spot caused potentially by spoilage, microsporidial infection or fungal infection


Consumer Research

In response to the WSD outbreak FRDC implemented the following projects to support the prawn farming and wild catch sector and provide clear direction towards planning
for future recovery for affected farms and fisheries. In addition to this research a consumer market research study was initiated to provide an estimate of the likely ‘reach’ and ’impact’ of this issue. The research was conducted with a representative sample of the Australian population aged 18+.


Future Research Needs

It is likely that FRDC will need to support a range of WSD R&D projects in future as immediate, medium and longer term priorities are identified through current project activities and ongoing consultation between industry, national and international aquatic disease experts and government R&D and biosecurity agencies. 



White spot disease does not pose a threat to human health or food safety.



What is white spot disease?

White spot disease (WSD) is a highly contagious viral disease of decapod crustaceans including prawns, crabs, yabbies and lobsters. White spot disease is caused by white spot syndrome virus (WSSV).


Where is white spot disease found?

WSD is widespread throughout prawn farming regions in Asia and has become established in prawns farmed in the Americas where it has caused severe losses.


How is white spot disease spread?

The disease is primarily spread through the movement of infected animals or water. Birds feeding on infected animals can contribute to the spread of the disease.


Can fish spread the virus?

No. Fish are not carriers of the virus that causes WSD.


What does white spot disease look like?

Prawns with WSD may have a loose shell with numerous white spots (0.5-2.0mm in diameter) on the inside surface of the shell and a pink to red discolouration.


How to report white spot disease

It is crucial that all aquaculture operators, commercial and recreational fishers and other waterway users report unusual signs in prawns (including bait) and other crustaceans.

Early detection provides a better chance of being able to contain and eradicate this serious disease.

If you see crustaceans that you suspect have the disease it is important to take note of the location and time and report this information immediately to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Alternatively phone the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 from anywhere in Australia.


Further information


FRDC Trade Data

Trade data for prawns



Senate Inquiry “The biosecurity risks associated with the importation of seafood and seafood products (including uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat) into Australia” - http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/Seafoodimportation

Inspector-General of Biosecurity’s review of the circumstances leading to the 2017 suspension of uncooked prawn imports into Australia and the biosecurity considerations relevant to future trade in uncooked prawns - https://www.igb.gov.au/uncooked-prawn-imports-effectiveness-biosecurity-controls

Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity Review - http://www.agriculture.gov.au/biosecurity/partnerships/nbc/intergovernmental-agreement-on-biosecurity/igabreview


Commercial operator information pack