Shrimp Virus Spreading
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,
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."