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Uncooked Prawns

​Suspension of imported uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat

The Director of Biosecurity suspended imports of the following class of goods for a period of six months effective from 00:00:01 hours (Australian eastern daylight savings time) on 9 January 2017:

  • uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat; and
  • uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat that have been marinated for human consumption.

The following class of goods are exempt from the suspension:

  • Uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat sourced from New Caledonia (at this time, only New Caledonia is recognised by Australia as being free of white spot syndrome virus (WSSV)).
  • Uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat processed into dumplings, spring rolls, samosas, other dim-sum type products and other similar products (these products represent a lower level of biosecurity risk, due to the high likelihood they will be cooked and eaten and the low likelihood of them being used as bait by fishers).
  • Uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat that have been coated for human consumption by being breaded, crumbed or battered (although these are now subject to an enhanced inspection regime).
  • Dried prawns and shelf-stable prawn-based food products. The preparation methods for dried prawns and shelf-stable prawn-based food products (such as dried prawns, canned prawns or condiments containing prawns as an ingredient e.g. shrimp paste) and the very low likelihood that these products will come into contact with WSSV susceptible species means that they pose a negligible biosecurity risk.
  • Irradiated bait for aquatic use, pet fish food and aquaculture feed. These products are subject to physical treatments (such as irradiation on-arrival with a 50kGray dose of gamma radiation at an approved irradiation facility) that eliminate the prevalence of viable WSSV.
  • Uncooked prawns sourced from Australia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Australia’s territorial waters are considered free of WSSV and it is reasonable to consider that prawns in the EEZ have an equivalent disease status. WSSV is a notifiable disease in Australia and has not been reported in prawns from the EEZ.
  • Uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat harvested within Australia, other than the area to which the QLD WSSV Movement Control Order relates, and sent to the external territories (including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island and Norfolk Island).
  • Uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat harvested from the External Territories (including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island and Norfolk Island) and imported into mainland Australia or moved between the External Territories.
  • Uncooked prawns harvested within Australia (wild caught in Australian territory other than the area to which the QLD WSSV Movement Control Order relates), exported to Thailand for processing in a facility approved by Thailand’s Department of Fisheries and re-exported to Australia. The exemption commenced on 6 March 2017.
  • Uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat imported into Australia as: (1) transhipped goods for outgoing passenger vessels engaged in international travels; or (2) laboratory or food samples for analysis. The exemption commenced on 28 February 2017.

The Director of Biosecurity’s suspension is based on existing import conditions and their application being insufficient to meet Australia’s appropriate level of sanitary protection due to the risk of WSSV. WSSV is a highly contagious viral infection that affects crustaceans. WSSV does not pose a human health risk.

The suspension extends to the external Territories of Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island. Exemptions to the suspension for these Territories may apply and are outlined respectively in the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island prawn import suspension factsheets.

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Prawns as bait

Uncooked prawns imported for human consumption should never be used as bait. The use of imported uncooked prawns (intended for human consumption) as bait or berley in recreational fishing carries a likelihood of infecting crustaceans with white spot syndrome virus (WSSV).

Imported prawn testing prior to retail sale

On 15 February 2017, storage facilities accredited by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department) (approved arrangement sites) capable of storing imported uncooked prawns were directed to secure all imported uncooked prawns pending risk assessment. This direction covered prawns that were imported prior to the enhanced testing regime that was introduced on 6 January 2017. Any product held at these premises are being brought back under biosecurity control and subjected to enhanced virus testing.

The department continues to focus on securing larger volumes of prawns that are currently stored in warehouses, distribution centres and cold stores across Australia to prevent them entering retail distribution outlets.

The department has contacted numerous major food service distributors and is working with these businesses to assess the biosecurity risk of product currently held at their facilities around the country.

Testing of the product at approved arrangement sites and other facilities (such as cold stores) across Australia is underway. If the product tests negative for WSSV at Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), it will be released onto the domestic market.

Clearance of uncooked prawns already shipped

Goods within the suspended class of goods that have been shipped but have not arrived in Australia, or have arrived but not been released from biosecurity control, were permitted entry where the documented final/master Bill of Lading date at the port of origin was on or before 8 January 2017. These goods were subject to a new and enhanced inspection regime, which included a secure-seals intact direction, 100 per cent inspection of the consignment and sampling inspection and testing of all consignments. Importers could choose to export the goods if they did not wish to have them inspected. Interference with the goods prior to inspection by a biosecurity officer resulted in a direction to export being issued and possible civil or criminal prosecution.

Goods within the suspended class of goods with a documented final/master Bill of Lading date at the port of origin of 9 January 2017 or later were suspended and, if imported to Australia, required to be exported or destroyed at the importer’s expense.

Import permits for uncooked prawns

If you hold a permit for goods that have been suspended, your import permit will be suspended. This suspension will take effect from 9 January 2017 until 9 July 2017.

If your import permit allows for suspended and exempt goods, your permit will be amended to remove the suspended goods.

If you have any questions regarding your import permit, you should contact the department’s Animal and Biological Assessments Branch on 1800 900 090 or email Imports

Management options for raw prawns held at approved arrangements

These prawns must either be:

  • Sampled and test negative for White Spot Syndrome Virus at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory; or
  • Exported; or
  • Disposed of at facility with an approved arrangement; or
  • Cooked at a facility with an approved arrangement

The following fact sheets are available for disposal and cooking of raw prawns:

Sampling protocols for uncooked marinated prawns

As part of the seals intact inspection of goods with a final/master Bill of Lading date at the port of origin on or before 8 January 2017, a biosecurity officer took samples from each batch within a consignment. Thirteen samples, each containing a sub-sample of five prawns, were taken from each batch.

The samples from each batch were sent to the importer’s nominated approved laboratory for testing at the importer’s expense. Batches returning a negative test result were then sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) for confirmatory testing. Batches returning a positive test result from the initial, or from confirmatory, testing are required to be cooked, re-exported or destroyed at the importer’s expense.

Cooking must be carried out at an approved premises under an Approved Arrangement in a manner that reduces the level of biosecurity risk to an acceptably low level. Further information about disposal and cooking of product is available in the prawn meat cooking requirements and prawn disposal requirements factsheets.

Inspector-General of Biosecurity review

On 17 February 2017, the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, Dr Helen Scott-Orr, formally advised the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources of her intention to commence a review into biosecurity issues surrounding the recent outbreak of WSSV in prawns in Queensland. The review will focus on the circumstances leading to the 6 January 2017 suspension of uncooked prawn imports into Australia and the biosecurity considerations relevant to future trade in uncooked prawns. The Inspector-General intends to offer stakeholders the opportunity to provide their views through a public consultation process as part of the review. Information about the consultation process will be available soon on the Inspector-General’s website.

Senate inquiry

On 21 March 2017, the Senate adopted the recommendations contained in the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s report Import of seafood and seafood products and referred the matter for inquiry and report by 22 June 2017.

More information can be found at the Parliament of Australia website by the following link:

The biosecurity risks associated with the importation of seafood and seafood products (including uncooked prawns and uncooked prawn meat) into Australia.

Media releases

Contact information

If you require further information or would like to be added to the distribution list for weekly email updates, please call the Prawn Liaison Officer on 1800 068 468 or email Prawn Liaison Officer