NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana crawfish producers, beware.

A deadly virus is threatening the industry, state aquaculture specialists said.

Mark Shirley, of the LSU Agriculture Center, said the virus — known as white spot syndrome — primarily affects shrimp and was first discovered in Thailand and other parts of southeast Asia. Somehow, he said, it has made its way to crawfish ponds in South Louisiana, where it is having a significant impact.

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Shirley said a symptom of the virus shows up as white spots, about the size of a pencil eraser, on shrimp shells. On crawfish, there won't be any spots, but producers will notice a drop in production and dead crawfish in the waters, he said.

Crawfish farmer Ian Garbarino said he's been producing crawfish in the state for more than 30 years. "I was having a great harvest until my catch suddenly dropped 70 percent in mid-March," he said. "Then I noticed dead crawfish floating in the water."

He brought a sample to the Ag Center, which confirmed the virus had hit his ponds.

"My catch went down by 70 percent overnight, and it hasn't come back," said Garbarino, of Jennings. "This thing wipes you out. Now we're trying to figure out what to do."

Garbarino met with Shirley and others Ag Center specialists this past week to discuss the issue, but no one really has a handle on how to prevent the virus, which was first detected in 2007 in Louisiana ponds in about 13 parishes as well as in the Atchafalaya Basin.

The next year, there were just a few cases. Shirley said that was the norm until this year, when it showed up in Vermilion, Jeff Davis, Acadia and St. Landry parishes and possibly others.

Shirley said the virus is not a health issue for consumers because it affects only crustaceans. But he said producers should be concerned.

"If we can find some research dollars, we might be able to do a broad range of testing to determine how prevalent the virus is and find ways to control it," he said.

He said not much is known about the virus in crawfish, since it was mainly an issue with the shrimp industry in Asia.

"It's just we don't have enough info on how it affects ... we do know it kills them, but we don't know how to manage it to keep it out of crawfish ponds," he said.

Shirley said Louisiana has 250,000 acres of crawfish farms producing an estimated $175 million worth of crawfish annually.

"It's a very valuable crop and involves a lot of producers across the state," he said.