We developed an improved prawn pathogen detection system to help prawn farmers identify diseases and inform stock management decisions while producing higher quality products for consumers.

The challenge

Stock losses due to pathogens

Prawn farmers globally face a common challenge of pathogens either entirely destroying their prawn stock, or causing their surviving stock to grow out slowly, resulting in smaller harvests. Pathogens cost the global industry around $6 billion per annum, at a time when food production needs to increase by more than 50 per cent to meet the world’s growing population.

Australia currently consumes all of the locally produced prawns and requires prawns to be imported to meet the shortfall in consumer demand.

Domestically, Australian prawn farmers must tackle endemic pathogens such as Infectious Hypodermal and Haematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHHNV) which cause stunted growth, tail deformities and mortality. There are also threats caused by foreign pathogens such as white spot syndrome virus (WSSV), which was detected in south-east Queensland in 2016, and which halved the total Australian prawn production in that season.

However, despite being acutely aware of the threat and impact caused by pathogens, prawn farmers have experienced on-going technological difficulties when trying to overcome these challenges. Testing for pathogens has been expensive with results often taking several weeks to turnaround, by which time a pathogen could have destroyed their entire potential harvest.

Our response

Multiple pathogen testing using all-in-one technology

We worked together with the prawn industry and developed an all-in-one prawn pathogen detection system to meet their requirements. The innovative Shrimp MultiPath pathogen detection system detects the 13 most commercially significant pathogens of prawns in a single test. It is cost-effective with a fast 24-48 hour turnaround time, empowering farmers to implement management interventions to stop pathogen spread and maximise farm outputs.

The results

Increased production, higher quality prawns

Start-up company Genics Pty Ltd has commercialised the Shrimp MultiPath pathogen detection system, making it available to all prawn farmers in Australia and overseas.

The technology has been proven and has the potential to significantly increase production, quality and profits for prawn farmers. In one case study, having access to improved pathogen data for IHHNV has been demonstrated to drive improved management decisions that increased production output by $67,000 per hectare at farm gate value . This data allows farmers to make better informed choices, such as:

  • Partial harvest – reducing the total biomass in a pond may improve conditions and aid recovery.
  • Priority harvest – ponds identified as sicker than others can be harvested ahead of healthy ones.
  • Early total harvest – farmers may determine that total harvest will be required to prevent loss of an entire crop.
  • Informed aeration management – electricity to run aerators are a major cost in prawn farming, therefore, being able to minimise aeration requirements by monitoring prawn health alongside other pond parameters will help minimise electricity usage.
  • Efficient feeding – sick prawns eat less and a reduction in feed will lower the amount of waste in the water and aid recovery.
  • Separate brood stock – many diseases are passed from mother to offspring, so separating brood stock can prevent transmission to progeny. 

There are also benefits for consumers, with disease-free prawns growing larger and having improved body shape, texture and quality. Australia currently consumes all of the locally produced prawns and requires prawns to be imported to meet the shortfall in consumer demand. Increased domestic production could result in a reduction in demand for imported prawns and reduce our reliance on overseas stocks.

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