Will Disease and Import Bans Cause an Australian Christmas Seafood Shortage?

The combination of disease-affected oysters and prawns and a ban on imported prawns is causing fears that Christmas seafood prices are set to soar.


November 13, 2017 By Danielle Cullen

Seafood prices could soar this Christmas with a shortage of oysters and prawns across the nation.

Tiger prawn prices are at a 30 year high, with a kilo of cooked tiger prawns currently selling in Sydney for $45, around $15 more than the same time this year. Prices are expected to reach as high as $52 as the festive season approaches.

The reason for the rise in prawn prices is two-fold. Farmers in South-East Queensland have had to stop farming and destroy $25 million worth of prawns after an outbreak of White Spot Disease which began this time last year. And imported prawns are still subject to a ban put in place in February this year after imported prawns were determined to have been the cause the White Spot Disease outbreak across Australian farms.

Oyster stocks are being affected by a rise in Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) which has been killing large numbers of Tasmanian grown Pacific oysters since 2016. The reduced numbers of Pacific oysters has driven an increase in demand for the non-affected Sydney rock oysters, which in turn have had their stocks depleted due to heavy rain.

White Spot Disease

White Spot Disease causes white spots and loose shells on most types of crustaceans including prawns and crabs. Other symptoms include reduced feeding and unusual swimming behaviour. In the majority of cases, the disease leads to eventual death for the animal.

Whilst the disease causes no harmful effects to humans, the outbreak of the disease has caused the closure of prawn farms across Queensland (the nation's primary prawn-growing region) and a reduction in imported prawns thought to be carrying the virus.

North Queensland Farms Reporting Bumper Stock for Christmas Season

Australian Prawn Farmers Association President Matt West disputes claims that the closure of South-East Queensland farms will affect Christmas stock.

“Historically, none of the farms impacted by white spot are a part of the Christmas market”, he said.

“There is a higher volume this year of beautiful fresh farmed tiger prawns and the quality is looking fantastic” Mr West advised.

“As a result of white spot, the Logan farms unselfishly and voluntarily shut down for a following period to drive the disease out of the country” he stated, “and credit must be given to the Logan farmers for taking such a strong stance against the disease.”

“But as those farms traditionally did not impact the Christmas market, it is still going to be a great Christmas with plenty of Australian farmed tiger prawns for seafood lovers.”

Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS)

Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) is a virus that attacks the gills of oysters effectively causing them to suffocate and die within hours.

POMS causes 100 per cent mortality in juvenile Pacific Oysters (known as spats) and kills up to 80 per cent of oysters between 12 months and two years old, as well as 50 per cent of adult oysters over four years old. The disease affects the popular Pacific oysters bred in Tasmania but has no effect on the smaller Sydney rock oysters.

The Tasmanian industry is trying to breed disease-resistant oysters however Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the resistant oysters were at least two years away.

"We're probably another two to three years away from finding disease-resistant stock for Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome, and the sooner we find that disease-resistant stock, the better," he said.

The disease has no known harmful effects on humans. Oysters being sold by retailers and restaurants are considered safe to eat.