Crayfish disease threat uncovered in NSW

Ads like this on Gumtree highlight the risk to our waterways and populations of crayfish.

VARIOUS inquiries are now underway into the recent incursion of white spot disease in Moreton Bay. Federal bureaucrats and politicians are dodging and weaving the inevitable questions regarding how this dreaded exotic virus got into the country.

Meanwhile, Fishing World has found something even more disturbing in a submission to the white spot parliamentary inquiry.

Researchers in NSW have uncovered a pathway that represents an unprecedented risk of introduction of an even deadlier disease – crayfish plague. A submission to the inquiry from the NSW Aquaculture Association uncovered evidence of illegal importation of live mexican dwarf crayfish. These illegally imported crayfish can carry not only the whitespot virus, but also a much worse disease, namely crayfish plague caused by an exotic fungus (Aphanomyces astaci).

Forget whitespot, crayfish plague is by far the worst disease possible for freshwater crayfish. North American crayfish species (like the mexican dwarf crayfish) are resistant to the infection, but when imports of live crayfish from North America were introduced into Europe in the mid-late 1800s, once these got into a European river system, the fungus usually killed all native crayfish in that river as they had no resistance to the disease. It was common to see dead native crayfish lining the river banks in new outbreak areas, and
even now, over 150 years after it was introduced, European crayfish populations have not recovered.

A quick internet search found the only “redeeming feature” is that this disease only affects freshwater crayfish and crabs
( But by all accounts it is extremely lethal and would devastate Australia’s wild crayfish populations and crayfish aquaculture industries if it got here.

The extremely worrying thing is that illegal importation of live mexican dwarf crayfish from North America (where crayfish plague originated) has not only bought known crayfish plague carriers into Australia, they are now openly being sold online and spread about by unscrupulous people trying to make a quick buck. The whole sordid story is told in the documents which can be found in the NSW Aquaculture Association submission (submission 4) and in the report Report.

We can only hope that Federal and State authorities will learn from the white spot debacle and move to fix this problem quickly, before yet another nasty exotic disease comes to call Australia home. If any Fisho readers become aware of the sale of mexican dwarf crayfish in your local area – make sure you alert your local exotic pest or disease reporting hotline with the relevant details,so state authorities can confiscate the crayfish for disease testing if required.

Hotlines include
National Emergency Animal Disease Hotline (all states): 1800 675 888
QLD – National Disease Hotline 1800 675 888, or 13 25 23
NSW -Aquatic Biosecurity Risk Management (02) 4982 1232 or
VIC – Emergency Animal Disease Hotline 1800 675 888
SA – PIRSA Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline- 1800 675 888 or Fishwatch 1800 065 522
WA – FishWatch 24 hour hotline 1800 815 507.
Tas – National disease hotline 1800 675 888, or Invasive Species Enquiries 1300369 688
NT – National disease hotline 1800 675 888. or Aquatic biosecurity 0413 381094;

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