Prawns surge after disease outbreak
INVESTORS are pumping tens of millions of dollars into Queensland prawn farms just two years after an outbreak of white spot disease nearly destroyed the $80 million industry.
Fisheries Minister Mark Furner said the investment surge would lead to a spike in production of thousands more tonnes of black tiger and banana prawns in a few years.
Farms in the state's north have started harvesting large prawns for the Christmas market, with the later-harvesting southern farms set to stock the Easter rush next year.
Farmers on the Logan River, where white spot was first detected, will start harvesting from late January.
It will be their first crop since authorities forced them to destroy their stock in early 2017.
White spot disease is deadly for prawns but harmless to humans.
Gold Coast Tiger Prawns general manager Alistair Dick said farmers on the river returned to production earlier this year and no new cases of white spot had been detected.
"We've certainly got to be cautious and vigilant," he said.
"The (federal) Department of Agriculture still haven't dealt with the underlying risk and new diseases are being detected in Asia that we aren't even testing at the border."
The source of the outbreak has not been discovered despite investigations by Queensland and federal authorities. However, farmers blame recreational fishermen using diseased imported prawns as bait.
The disease has spread to wild prawns in Moreton Bay but farms in north Queensland were not contaminated.
Mr Furner said Tasmanian aquaculture giant Tassal bought prawn farms at Proserpine and Mission Beach and would invest $34 million in those farms and in one at Yamba, NSW.
The company plans to harvest more than 3000 tonnes of prawns annually in the next three to five years.
The MBD group, which operates a farm south of Townsville, said it planned a $130 million expansion from May next year. Up to 120 jobs are expected to be created during the construction of 250ha of ponds.
"There's untapped potential for new seafood enterprises to energise our regional communities and we are more than ready and well placed to capitalise on that," Mr Furner said.
Australian Prawn Farms general manager Matt West said supermarkets chains wanted all the prawns his north Queensland farm could produce.
"Demand for our Queensland prawns just keeps on growing and that's great news," he said.