Aquaculture Biosecurity

Aquaculture Biosecurity

on August 3, 2020


Truly adaptive fisheries management strategies responding to signals from the field could become the norm. The enforcing of regulations will become more data-driven, and monitoring agencies should considerably improve their understanding of the sector.
High-tech and big-data approaches have the potential to improve sustainability and working conditions for fishers and fish farmers, and help society to understand better the interdependences that aquaculture and fisheries have with the environment. However, new technologies can infringe on privacy, run the risk of breaking established monitoring and management frameworks, and may not automatically result in efficient controls on activities. Here, FAO has a role to play in promoting the use of standards, in ensuring that fishers’ rights and livelihoods are improved in the future by fostering international collaboration on data management and privacy, and in encouraging the development of appropriate regulations, guidelines and best practices for information systems.

Disease emergence

Aquatic animal disease is one of the most serious constraints to the expansion and development of sustainable aquaculture. Globally, a trend in aquaculture is that a previously unreported pathogen that causes a new and unknown disease will emerge, spread rapidly, including across national borders, and cause major production losses approximately every three to five years.

In recent years, the understanding of the drivers for disease emergence in aquaculture has increased, and the factors and pathways involved can be grouped in four general categories (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2019a), namely:

  • Trade and movement of live animals and their products: Fish, shrimp and other cultured aquatic animals (and aquatic plants) have become food commodities, traded globally as live aquatic organisms (e.g. eggs, larvae, fry and adults) and products (fresh, frozen, dried, salted and smoked), often in huge volumes. When adequate national biosecurity is lacking, pathogens (and invasive aquatic species) may be transferred at the same time.
  • Knowledge of pathogens and their hosts: Due to their unique aquatic medium, the health of cultured populations of aquatic animals is not readily apparent. The large number of species reared under a variety of aquaculture systems (more than 600 species are farmed globally) means that knowledge on new diseases and the range of susceptible host species often lags behind aquaculture development. Moreover, there is often a slow collective awareness of new threats among relevant stakeholders and entities responsible for maintaining biosecurity. Basic knowledge on the pathogen (e.g. pathogenicity and transmission routes) and its host(s) (e.g. species, life stages infected, immunity and genetics) is often lacking, as are sensitive, specific, and rapid diagnostic tests for identification.
  • Aquatic animal health management: A lack (or insufficient number and quality) of institutional and technical capacities limits the application of effective biosecurity measures. Some of the more important ones are: (i) weak regulatory frameworks, enforcement and implementation of international standards | 190 | THE STATE OF WORLD FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE 2020 and guidelines for biosecurity best practices; (ii) weak coordination between the multiple institutions involved in aquaculture production and aquatic animal health management (i.e. fisheries, aquaculture and veterinary authorities); (iii) a lack of adequate and well-implemented biosecurity strategies at the farm, sector and national levels; and (iv) absent or insufficient capacity for response to emergencies;
  • Ecosystem changes: Aquatic ecosystems are dynamic, changing through both direct human activity (dams, community expansion, pollution, shipping, tourism, new species introductions, etc.) and non-human impacts (climate change, hurricanes, algal blooms, etc.). In these evolving situations, achieving successful aquaculture is complicated by the physiology of the animals (e.g. poikilothermic constraints to adaptation), emergence of pathogens, and changing geographical ranges of wild stocks, and microbes and parasites as environmental factors change near the tolerance levels for hosts and disease agents.

Challenges and solutions

As countries and aquaculture enterprises advance along the biosecurity pathway, the following outcomes can be expected: reduced burden of diseases; improved aquatic health at the farm and national levels; minimized global spread of diseases; optimized national socio-economic benefits from aquaculture; attraction of investment into aquaculture; and achievement of One Health goals. These outcomes will provide benefits at the enterprise, national, regional and global levels. This process will include the development of PMP toolkits to support its implementation, for example: governance and national application guidelines; risk-based surveillance; decision trees for investigating aquatic animal (including plant) mortality events; emergency preparedness and response system audits; aquatic animal disease burden; public–private-sector partnerships; and biosecurity actions plans specific to farms and commodities (sectors). Another milestone decision reached at the tenth session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture was the recommendation to COFI to consider the development, as part of FAO’s global aquaculture sustainability programme, of a multidonor-assisted, long-term component on aquaculture biosecurity and its five pillars:

  • Strengthening disease prevention at the farm level through responsible fish farming (including reducing antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture and application of suitable alternatives to antimicrobials) and other science-based and technology-proven measures.
  • Improving aquaculture biosecurity governance through implementing the PMP/AB, enhancing interpretation and implementation of international standards and strengthening the One Health approach by bringing together state and non-state (producers and value chain stakeholders) actors, international and regional organizations, and research, academic, donor and financial institutions to design and implement mandated biosecurity measures.
  • Expanding understanding of aquaculture health economics (burden and investments).
  • Enhancing emergency preparedness (early warning and forecasting tools, early detection, and early response) at all levels.
  • Actively supporting Pillars 1–4 with several cross-cutting issues such as capacity and competence development, disease intelligence and risk communication, education and extension, targeted research and development and innovation.

In conclusion, to meet the ever-growing demand for fish and seafood for human consumption, aquaculture systems must become more efficient by increasing production and profitability through prevention and long-term biosecurity management strategies that can greatly reduce the economic and environmental losses caused by diseases. Creating healthy and resilient hosts through good biosecurity – in combination with good genetics and nutrition – is needed for a maturing aquaculture industry. It is now time to pursue multi-stakeholder commitment and multidonor support towards a coherent, cooperative and coordinated aquaculture biosecurity component of the global aquaculture sustainability programme.

To read the full article on Aquaculture Biosecurity written by the FAO(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and to read the full list of authors and contributors to the writing of this report follow this link.