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Uncooked Prawns

End of prawn suspension and new import conditions for prawns and prawn products for human consumption

  • The import suspension of uncooked prawns lapsed at midnight on 6 July 2017.
  • Enhanced import conditions have been implemented on 7 July 2017, to allow for safe trade in prawns and prawn products, to meet Australia’s appropriate level of protection (ALOP).
  • From 7 July 2017, uncooked prawns, marinated prawns and Australian prawns processed overseas (excluding those processed in an Australian government approved supply chain) will be consolidated into the one product class – uncooked prawns.
  • Prawns within this class must be uncooked, frozen and have the head and shell removed (the last shell segment and tail fans permitted).
  • Exporting countries must confirm that this new class of uncooked prawns has been tested and found to be free of white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) and yellow head virus (YHV). These prawns are subject to 100 per cent secure seals intact inspection on-arrival in Australia and must again test negative for WSSV and YHV at an Australian screening laboratory before they can be released form biosecurity control.
  • The department has contacted importers individually regarding the variation of their suspended import permits to reflect the enhanced import conditions. No change has been made to the product description on the permit. For this reason, both marinated and uncooked prawn product descriptions still apply noting that the import conditions are now the same. As the department commences issuing new import permits that product descriptions will be amended.
  • Please note that all previously imported product that has received a notice of direction, must test negative for WSSV at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory before it can be released into the market. This is because it was not subject to the risk management measures that will apply for future shipments.
  • Importers are responsible for ensuring that the conditions on the import permit are complied with before importing goods into Australia. This includes ensuring that there are relevant procedures in place for the exporting country to certify that the prawns are disease free and confirmation that a health certificate can be obtained.
  • Competent Authorities from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China and Bangladesh have provided written confirmation to the department that they can meet Australia’s import conditions.
  • The department has also written to the Competent Authorities in Indonesia, India, Argentina, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States of America. The department is working closely with trading partners to ensure trade can be resumed as quickly as possible with these countries.
  • The department will provide further Import Industry Advice Notices once Competent Authorities confirm in writing that they can meet the enhanced import conditions.

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Enhanced import conditions

  • Exporting country Competent Authorities (CAs) will be required to certify that the prawns have been found to be free of white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) and yellow head virus (YHV) based on sampling and testing methods recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Pre-export sampling and testing is to be conducted post-processing and prior to export to Australia.
  • Uncooked prawns will be subject to 100% secure seals intact inspection on-arrival in Australia and testing for WSSV and YHV at an approved Australian laboratory. Only those prawns which pass testing for both WSSV and YHV at an approved screening laboratory will be released from biosecurity control. Batches of prawns that return positive results must be re-exported, destroyed or further processed (i.e. cooked) in a facility approved by the department for that purpose.
  • Some specific import conditions for marinated prawns and Australian prawns processed overseas have been removed because the department considers that a combination of pre-export and on-arrival testing adequately addresses the biosecurity risk.
    • For prawns that are marinated, the CA will no longer need to certify that the prawns have been adequately marinated and on-arrival assessments to check marination will not be undertaken by the department.
    • For Australian prawns processed overseas in a non-Australian government audited supply chain, the CA will no longer be required to certify that the prawns have been processed in a premises it has approved, with procedures in place to ensure product segregation throughout transport, processing and storage.
  • Breaded, battered and crumbed prawns are considered a lower biosecurity risk and will not be subject to pre-export or on-arrival testing. However, this product will continue to be subject to the 100% secure seals intact inspection regime on-arrival to ensure minimum coating requirements are met.
  • Australian prawns processed overseas through a department-approved supply chain (as exists for Thailand) are also considered a lower biosecurity risk and will not be subject to pre-export testing. They will not need to have heads and shells removed, and will be tested on-arrival for WSSV and YHV.
  • Import conditions will remain in place pending the outcomes of the review of the biosecurity risks of, and import conditions for, prawn and prawn products, announced by the department on 16 May 2017. If, during this time, the biosecurity risks for these products change, the department may amend the import conditions to ensure that the biosecurity risk meets Australia’s ALOP.
  • The department has already allocated additional resources in order to meet the extra demand to fulfil these enhanced import conditions and has recently deployed extra staff across the department to work on the management of biosecurity risk associated with these products.

Verification of import conditions

On-arrival in Australia, consignments of prawns will be verified through inspections and/or testing.

Uncooked prawns and prawn products are inspected by the department to ensure that the imported commodity and documentation complies with the import permit conditions. Secure seals intact inspections and an appropriate level of on-arrival verification testing will be applied to consignments of uncooked prawns.

Cooked prawns will be inspected by the department on a random basis to ensure compliance with biosecurity attestations required on government health certificates.

Sampling and Laboratory testing program for new imports of uncooked prawns in Australia:

  • Samples of prawns for WSSV and YHV testing will be taken by DAWR biosecurity officers under seal in-tact conditions at relevant Approved Arrangement locations. Thirteen samples of 5 prawns each (65 in total) will be randomly selected from each importer-declared batch. A batch cannot be greater than 1 shipping container.
  • Importers will nominate which one of the three DAWR approved laboratories will perform WSSV and YHV testing.
  • The department has identified the need to develop a more standardised testing procedure for WSSV to be used by laboratories conducting testing of imported prawns and is overseeing its development. This more standardised testing procedure will be adopted consistently by all testing laboratories and independently verified by the National Association of Testing Authorities Australia (NATA).
  • The method used in approved laboratories are based on the real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in the current version of the OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals or equivalent.
  • To improve the consistency of testing results, the approved laboratories are required to implement the following actions for WSSV testing of imported prawns from 7 July 2017:
    • The real-time PCR must run for 45 cycles.
    • A negative result is where there is no amplification of WSSV DNA within 45 cycles in all 13 samples.
    • A positive result is where there is detectable amplification of WSSV DNA before 40 cycles (Ct<40) in any one of the 13 samples.
    • A suspected positive results where there is detectable amplification between 40 and 45 cycles in any one of the 13 samples
    • When a laboratory determines one or more suspected positive results in a batch, the laboratory should advise the importer to request confirmatory testing Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL).
      • Note only those samples testing suspected positive would be subject to confirmatory testing, not samples that tested negative at the approved laboratories.
    • If the importer chooses not to request confirmatory testing for suspected positive samples, a batch of prawns containing one or more suspected positive samples will be reported as positive for WSSV.
    • In cases where there are positive and suspected positive samples in the batch, the importer also has the option to request confirmatory testing for those samples at AAHL.
    • For confirmatory testing, AAHL also uses Ct of 45 as cut-off for negative samples. If suspected positive samples produce Ct value before 45 cycles, these samples will be reported as positive. This is because AAHL can conduct additional testing to further confirm these samples are positive for WSSV.

The sampling regime still provides 95% confidence of detecting the agent, if present, at 5% prevalence.

Batch definition for new imports of uncooked prawns:

  • For the purpose of testing prawns for disease agents of biosecurity concern, a batch may be defined by one of the following (to be determined by the CA) but, in any case, a batch cannot exceed one shipping container:
    • product from a single line in a single processing run
    • product harvested from a single aquaculture pond
    • one species of prawn wild caught during one continuous fishing period.
  • Each consignment (container) will be considered as one batch unless multiple batches are specified in the container. If a batch is shipped in two containers, each container will be considered a single unrelated batch. In addition, each batch in a single consignment must be labelled and clearly identifiable.
  • Documentation from the exporter, supplier or the CA verifying the number of batches in the consignment must be provided to the department. This documentation must clearly detail the labelling of each batch in the consignment. If the number of batches cannot be determined from documentation, full unpacking and inspection may be required in order to determine the number of batches. This may result in additional testing and inspection costs.

Import permits for new imports of uncooked prawns

Detailed information on import permits for cooked and uncooked prawns imported for human consumption can be found at 2017-12 – End of prawn suspension and import conditions for prawns and prawn products for human consumption.

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

Sampling and Laboratory testing program for new imports of uncooked prawns in Australia

  • Samples of prawns for white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) and yellow head virus (YHV) testing will be taken by biosecurity officers under seals intact conditions at Approved Arrangement sites. 13 samples of 5 prawns each (65 in total) are randomly selected from each importer-declared batch. A batch cannot be greater than 1 shipping container.
  • Importers will nominate which one of the three government approved laboratories will perform WSSV and YHV testing. Costs associated with this testing will be borne by the importer.
  • The department is overseeing the development of a more standardised testing procedure that will be used consistently by all testing laboratories and independently verified by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA).
  • The method used in approved laboratories is based on the real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in the current version of the OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals or equivalent.
  • To improve the consistency of testing results, the approved laboratories are required to implement the following actions for WSSV testing of imported prawns from 7 July 2017:
    • The real-time PCR must run for 45 cycles.
    • A negative result is where there is no amplification of WSSV DNA within 45 cycles (Ct) in all 13 samples.
    • A positive result is where there is detectable amplification of WSSV DNA before 40 cycles (Ct<40) in any one of the 13 samples.
    • A suspected positive results where there is detectable amplification between 40 and 45 cycles in any one of the 13 samples
    • When a laboratory determines one or more suspected positive results in a batch, the laboratory should advise the importer to request confirmatory testing from AAHL.
      • Note, only those samples testing suspected positive would be subject to confirmatory testing, not samples that tested negative at the approved laboratories.
    • If the importer chooses not to request confirmatory testing for suspected positive samples, a batch of prawns containing one or more suspected positive samples will be reported as positive for WSSV.
    • In cases where there are positive and suspected positive samples in the batch, the importer also has the option to request confirmatory testing for those samples at AAHL.
    • For confirmatory testing, AAHL also uses Ct of 45 as cut-off for negative samples. If suspected positive samples produce Ct value before 45 cycles, these samples will be reported as positive. This is because AAHL can conduct additional testing to further confirm these samples are positive for WSSV.
  • Australia’s import testing regime provides a 95 percent level of confidence that if the disease is present, it will be detected 95 percent of the time at a 5 percent prevalence level of the batch being tested. This is consistent with Australia’s appropriate level of protection and allows safe trade to continue. Given that the disease will normally be present in a much higher percentage in a farmed prawn population, the level of confidence is actually more likely to exceed a 99 per cent level of confidence. This sampling regimen is based on an accepted statistical model that provides confidence in disease testing.
It should be noted that imported uncooked prawns are subject to a suite of enhanced risk management measures, not just on-shore testing.

Requirements for moving suspended prawn imports

Prawn consignments that were imported prior to the suspension on 9 January 2017 are subject to certain biosecurity requirements. These measures are in place to manage the risk of White Spot Disease. The department has developed a fact sheet outlining the requirements for the movement of infected prawns.

Key biosecurity requirements

  • You must receive written approval from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources before prawns are moved.
  • To obtain approval from the department you must complete the form: Application to move suspended prawn product imports subject to biosecurity control.
  • Both sites must keep a signed copy of the plans on file and present them on request to the department.
  • Interstate movements are not permitted under any circumstances.
  • Unless otherwise directed, biosecurity officers must be present to supervise loading and unloading of product.
  • Records of loading and unloading must be kept for audit purposes.

Transport of product:

  • Goods must be transported frozen in cartons.
  • The transport provider must use an enclosed truck or another method approved by the department to maintain security to the delivery point.
  • The container or truck will be sealed with a biosecurity seal.
  • Imported prawns and associated residue must be separate from other products.
  • The product must be moved from the secure area with minimum time delays. If delays occur during loading, container doors must be closed and remaining product secured.
  • The seal, carton and batch numbers will be verified on arrival.

All inspection and verification processes are chargeable.

Note: The receiving site must be a (Class 2.5) Approved Arrangement under section 406 of the Biosecurity Act 2015 or a site approved by the department. Movement to a non-approved site must have prior approval from the department.

Find out more about the department’s Approved arrangements.

Contacts for further information

For all enquiries relating to prawn imports or the prawn import suspension, email Prawn Liaison Officer or phone 1800 068 468.

Requirements for moving suspended prawn imports fact sheet​.

Crumbed, battered and breaded prawn inspections

  • The department has introduced an increased rate of inspection to ensure that crumbed, breaded and battered prawns are genuinely described and meet the import requirements. While the inspection rate for consignments has increased, the criteria that crumbed, breaded and battered prawns must meet remains unchanged.
  • The key factors considered by a biosecurity officer when assessing if the product is a genuine crumbed, breaded or battered product during inspection are:
    • Coating coverage – Does the coating sufficiently cover the product (in its frozen state) or are patches of raw prawn meat readily visible?
    • Consistency of the coating – When thawed does the coating naturally adhere to the prawn or does it run off under its own weight?
    • Variation of product within samples – For example, different coloured coatings on prawns from the same product line.
    • Do the samples accord with previous information supplied to the department – The samples may be compared to photos supplied at the time of permit assessment. These photos must realistically show the product as it will appear at inspection.

Direction to manage biosecurity risks

  • As part of the department’s on-going comprehensive uncooked prawn withdrawal process, it has identified and contacted approximately 130 domestic cold storage facilities. These facilities have been directed to secure any uncooked prawns and to advise the department. Where uncooked prawns are identified, they will be subject to sampling and testing for WSSV.
  • The department continues to work with Biosecurity Industry Participants (BIPs) to manage the potential biosecurity risk of secured uncooked prawns held at an Approved Arrangement site.
  • The department is continuing inspections and is contacting relevant parties to arrange inspections.
  • As part of this process the goods are being brought back under biosecurity control while the risk assessment is taking place. Both brokers and BIPs will receive notification and directions relating to this testing.
  • If you have received a direction and have any questions please email Prawn Liaison Officer.
  • If you have received an invoice for costs associated with the inspection and sampling of secured product and you do not believe the charges should be invoiced to you, please advise our accounts receivable and debt management section at AR Helpdesk and inform them of the details of the correct billing party. The AR Helpdesk will be able to amend the billing information on the invoice and redirect to the company directly:
Please provide the following information when contacting the AR Helpdesk: details of the billing party including their name, address and contact details.

Inspection requirements

Brokers and importers are encouraged to contact the department to book inspections or to organise exports for consignments that have been directed for inspection. This will assist in reducing delays and assist the department with planning inspection activities.

To book, please contact the Client Contact Group on 1800 900 090.

If you or your broker have received an inspection direction as a result of the letter from the department placing the goods back under biosecurity control, a departmental representative from the Inspections Services Group will be in contact with you in the next week or so to arrange a time for the inspection and sampling for the goods that are on hold. You do not need to call the department to arrange an inspection.

Biosecurity Industry Participants need to be aware of the following prior to Biosecurity Officers attending their premises to conduct inspection and sampling of goods:

  • For import inspections such as breaded, battered and crumbed, container seals must remain intact. Biosecurity Officers will remove the seal and verify.
  • Two Biosecurity Officers will attend most inspections.
  • Fee for service rates will apply for each officer.
  • Expected duration of inspection is a minimum of two hours, however, it may be longer depending on the quantity to be inspected, the number of batches to be sampled, etc.
  • An adequate safe inspection area is required during cargo deconsolidation, inspection and sampling.
  • Additional labour to assist officers with handling cartons during the inspection should be considered. Please note: officers will be present for the entire duration of the unpack and charges apply for the total time taken.
  • The importer is responsible for all transport costs prior to and after inspection, including cargo handling, additional labour and cold storage fees.

Export procedures

Biosecurity Industry Participants need to be aware of the following requirements when they have elected to have the goods exported:

  • Departmental officers will supervise the export of all uncooked prawn products, including any breaded, battered or crumbed product, where the importer has elected to export the goods as their treatment option.
  • For goods that remain in the container they were imported in and have not been unpacked, an officer will verify the details and the seal number match the import documentation and the seal is intact prior to the goods being exported.
  • For goods that are being packed for export a departmental officer will need to be in attendance for the duration the container is being packed. The officer will verify the details of the goods being packed into the container and that a seal has been applied to the container prior to the goods being exported.
  • Two officers may be required when the goods are packed into a container.
  • Fee for service rates will apply for each officer.
  • Expected duration for a seal check will be a minimum of thirty minutes.
  • Expected duration for the packing of a container is expected to be 2 hours, however, it may be longer. Please note: officers will be present for the entire duration of the pack and charges apply for the total time taken to complete the packing and seal the container.
  • An adequate safe inspection area is required during the cargo packing operations.
  • The importer is responsible for all transport costs prior to and after inspection, including cargo handling, additional labour and cold storage fees.
  • To request an appointment complete the request for inspection form and email it to the department in the location where the cargo is held.
  • The Request for permission to dispose of goods/conveyance form must be completed
  • Please contact the Client Contact Group on 1800 900 090 to book an inspection.

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.

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