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Disease Management: The Big Challenge

Health Biosecurity

At Global Aquaculture Alliances recent GOAL 2011 conference in Santiago, Chile, Executive Director Wally Stevens discussed in his welcoming remarks the five major challenges between us and our objective of responsibly doubling aquaculture production in a decade: disease management, feed supply, environmental impacts, funding and market acceptance, writes Darryl Jory, Development Manager, Global Aquaculture Advocate.


Many aquatic animal diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and other undiagnosed and emerging pathogens will continue to have a significant impact as our industry expands to meet the challenge of increased production. Many factors contribute to disease, including production intensification; increased, unregulated introduction of species and global trade in live animals and their products; and improper application of biosecurity measures.

One example of diseases causing serious problems in aquaculture is the case of the salmon-farming industry in Chile. Farmers first faced an increase in sea lice at the end of 2006, probably due to a combination of factors such as changing environmental conditions and increasing fish farm concentration. Then, after more than two decades of impressive growth, the Chilean salmon industry had to confront a serious crisis in mid- 2007 due to the effects of the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus on Atlantic salmon.

Fortunately, the industry has effectively addressed the ISA challenge. And it is worth noting that an initiative of the Global Aquaculture Alliance – co-sponsored by the Undersecretariat for Fisheries of Chile, SalmonChile and World Bank, and developed by an international team of experts – analyzed the progression and recovery of the ISA crisis in Chile and reported important lessons that might prevent or mitigate similar outbreaks in aquaculture industries elsewhere.

Viral diseases like that caused by the white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) continue to seriously affect the shrimp-farming industry. Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, Brazil and Mexico reported significant issues from WSSV last year. The situation in the state of Sonora in northwestern Mexico – which has been the country’s leading producer of farmed shrimp – is worth mentioning in particular.

In late 2011, farmed shrimp harvests were again cut short in Sonora due to a serious outbreak of WSSV. Shrimp farmers produced 80,000 mt of shrimp in 2009, but last year, production fell to around 41,000 mt. Some 7,500 workers lost their jobs, and the industry reportedly lost an estimated U.S. $150 million.

However, history tells us that shrimp farmers in many regions of the world have faced and effectively dealt with WSSV for the last several years, and those newly affected will also do so. Diseases are a fact of life in every animal production industry, and the development of strategies to better address these challenges must be our priority if we are to meet the objective of doubling production in a decade.

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April 2012