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Shrimp Virus Spreading


Associated Press


Despite measures taken to quarantine a virus at a Kauai shrimp farm, Hawaii, the disease could spread to native crustaceans and ultimately harm the reef ecosystem, state officials said.


The state Department of Agriculture quarantined Ceatech USA, Inc.'s shrimp farm in Kekaha after white spot syndrome virus, which causes serious disease in crustaceans, was discovered earlier this month.


The virus is highly contagious and fatal to sea life, but poses no threat to humans, even if infected shrimp are eaten, the state said.


The disease has been reported in Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines and in Central and South America, agriculture officials said, but never before in Hawaii.


Ceatech workers last week voluntarily began draining all 48 ponds into Kinikini Ditch, and burying 20 million dead shrimp. Some believe that may not be enough to stop the virus.


"From what I've seen, their remediation efforts are like putting lipstick on a corpse," said Don Heacock, Kauai district aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.


Dr. James Foppoli, the state's veterinarian, said the problem is that the virus lives in water, and Ceatech has been draining its effluent for years into Kinikini Ditch, which runs into various streamlets and rivers before reaching the ocean.


Recent draining means those discharges were at an all-time high before they stopped on Thursday, he said.


The virus could theoretically end up in Hawaii waters and harm native crustacean populations here and, ultimately, reef ecosystems, Heacock said.


Ceatech officials have abided by all federal environmental regulations during the draining period, Foppoli said. But Heacock says no one knows how long the shrimp have been infected.


"We did find shrimp in the detention basins, and there's nothing to prevent the tiny shrimp from escaping into the ditch and out to sea," he said.


State biologists are sending Kekaha-area crustacean samples to the University of Arizona to test whether local crustaceans have been infected with the virus.


"We can't jump to conclusions until we've done more tests," Heacock said. "We don't even know if the virus happens here naturally."


If the virus is detected in Kauai's native species, then tests will be done statewide to determine if species in other Hawaiian waters are infected.


If the virus isn't found anywhere else, "we'll have to look at Kekaha," Heacock said, suggesting that the infection could be traced back to Ceatech. Heacock said officials there have done everything possible to control and destroy the virus.


"The virus could potentially spread around the island and archipelago," Heacock said.


Scientists believe a bird might have eaten infected shrimp and spread the virus to Kauai with droppings.


"Every time you buy shrimp from the store, you're probably getting the white-spot virus," Heacock said. "Most shrimp from Asia are infected, but it's harmless to humans. Still, all you have to do is eat it. Human waste can carry the virus. Even just washing your hands could pass the virus."


Ceatech employs 40 people and runs the largest aquafarm shrimp operation in the state. The company has plans to expand its operations, but the virus is expected to cost some $2 million in lost revenue over the next few months.


Meanwhile, people in the area are getting a nose-full of rotting shrimp.


"It's beyond stink!" said Derek Pellin of Lawai, who surfs near Kekaha. "You just have to drive by there. It's unbelievable."