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Improving US Aquaculture Health through Programme Standards

15 March 2016, at 12:00am

US - Having healthy fish is at the core of a successful aquaculture operation. With this in mind, the National Aquaculture Association (NAA) alongside USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS Veterinary Services), has created the Commercial Aquaculture Health Programme Standards (CAHPS) to improve the health of fish and shellfish farms across the country and to promote the trade and movement of healthy farm-raised aquatic animals, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.

As voluntary standards, the idea of the CAHPS is to foster development of verifiable and documented aquatic animal health management practices at the farm level and create specific pathogen free zones within the US. Such documented plans, when fully implemented, would improve marketability of live products, and enhance the movement of live animals within the US and internationally.

The standards form a non-regulatory national framework and infrastructure that, not only improves the health of farmed species, but also supports improved health management, environmental sustainability and increased business and trade opportunities.

By applying the standards on their farms, farmers will monitor, detect and manage aquatic animal health more efficiently and hopefully, more effectively.

Maintaining a high standard of health on your farm is known to be key to the success of an aquaculture business.

Dr David Marancik, Aquatic Veterinarian at Fish Vet Group US, explained: “We know that improving fish health and welfare directly increases on-farm production. It is also widely accepted that disease prevention is more cost effective than trying to treat disease.”

“These principles run parallel with the goals of CAHPS which is to try to help farms maintain freedom of disease. These management practices will increase the success of aquaculture enterprises because they proactively support fish health,” he continued.

There is clearly a strong need for an aquaculture health standard programme in the US as, at present, the US commercial aquaculture industry experiences challenges with both the domestic and international movement of their animals due to burdensome animal health testing and the lack of a recognised national programme for commercial aquaculture that would assure lower disease risk and an auditable processes for health validation, explained Dr Kathleen Hartman, Aquaculture Programme Leader for USDA APHIS Veterinary Services.

Dr John R. MacMillan, Vice President of Clear Springs Foods, speaking on behalf of the National Aquaculture Association (NAA), reiterated the support the CAHPS would bring to US farmers.

"US producers have long been challenged by widely differing state fish health regulations. The NAA has worked with the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services to create CAHPS which we hope ultimately creates opportunity for states to better harmonize regulations and remove unwarranted barriers to trade.

“The NAA also wants to enhance opportunity for domestic producers interested in international trade. More transparent and verifiable health protection programmes accomplish this."

"US producers are concerned about the introduction of foreign animal pathogens. Institution of the CAHPS helps create a better early warning system than currently exists in the US," Dr MacMillan continued.

CAHPS Framework

The CAHPS is composed of five science-based principles that can be applied to any aquatic animal production system for health determination, maintenance and protection.

For farms to join CAHPS they must apply the following five principles on their farm and must demonstrate the application of each principle in a written site specific health plan.

  1. Aquatic Animal Health Team - Aquaculture facilities must engage with aquatic animal health and aquaculture professionals to develop a site-specific health plan (SSHP).

  2. Risk Characterisation and Management - The farm must work with its aquatic animal health team to develop strategies and training for early disease detection and to establish site-specific thresholds that trigger a disease investigation.

  3. Surveillance - The farm must apply sampling and surveillance strategies for specific pathogens that may affect the species cultured.

  4. Investigation and Reporting - When morbidity or mortality exceeds established thresholds for a CAHPS site, the farm must launch a disease investigation and report to the relevant authority.

  5. Response - Participating farms must establish an aquatic animal health infrastructure which can identify and respond to significant pathogen findings.

“Many farmers involved in commercial production are already adhering to these principles, however there is currently no official recognition of their efforts,” said Dr Hartman.

“The CAHPS will therefore provide an infrastructure for these activities to be recognised and implemented in meaningful ways that establish an aquaculture site as lower risk for detectable pathogens and also provide the framework and partnership to define zones and compartments,” Dr Hartman continued.

In the long term, it is hoped that if enough farmers implement CAHPS, then the leverage and power of the programme will grow due to the lower level risk of pathogens and better biosecurity. This in turn will increase confidence in the health-status of US farmed aquatic animals.

“If other countries and trading partners recognise CAHPS, then science-based approaches to verifying animal health will prevail,” said Dr Hartman.

Helping framers understand their vital role in the CAHPS programme is Fish Vet Group (FVG).
Companies like FVG, based in Portland, Maine, are ready to help farmers set up their health plan and to implement the principles.

As a diagnostic laboratory, FVG will play an important role in sampling and testing fish and will provide the health certificate and any other appropriate documentation for reporting.
The company will also work alongside farmers to help interpret the testing results and use it as a means to increase productivity on their farm.

“We want to ensure that farmers understand their vital role in the CAHPS programme and allow them the opportunity to apply the information gained from this program to the fullest. We will also keep farmers up to date of any changes in standards or shifts in priorities as the diseases of concern and the CAHPS evolve,” assured Dr Marancik.

CAHPS Benefits Outweigh Costs

For some farmers implementing CAHPS, there may initially be some increased costs due to labour for drafting and implementing the health plan, explained Dr Hartman.

However, further down the line, more efficient biosecurity and surveillance practices may allow the farm to reduce the number of animals being tested for specific pathogens and, as a result, will lower costs for sampling, labour and animals, as well as diagnostic fees.

There will also be an economic benefit to farmers through improved trade and business expansion as it is hoped that CAHPS will be recognised by trading partners, both domestic and international, as a verifiable system for assuring the health of farm raised aquatic animals in the US, thereby increasing trade and opening up new international markets.

Dr Hartman explained that she believes the benefits will become more and more evident as sites participate in CAHPS and specific pathogen freezones are established, thus facilitating trade.

Enhancing Environmental Sustainability

Although CAHPS is primarily focused on animal health, another benefit of the standard is that it promotes environmental sustainability.

In line with the improved health of farmed aquatic species, or the much earlier detection of any illness, comes the decreased use of chemotherapeutic treatments which in turn will improve the health of the environment.

Similarly, healthy fish will better utilise feed and therefore there will be less waste.

CAHPS Found to Have Economic Benefit

With the aquaculture industry eagerly awaiting its introduction, USDA APHIS is now beginning to trial CAHPS in various states and sectors of the US industry.

One pilot project, undertaken by Carole Engle and Jonathan van Senten, University of Arkansaw at Pine Bluff, found using the standards led to big economic savings for farmers.

This particular project used the CAHPS on US baitfish farms. The study found that through using the standards, on average regulatory costs per farm have the potential to be reduced from $150,000 to, at best - $56,000 and, at worst - $66,000.

"CAHPS have a great potential to reduce regulatory costs on baitfish farms, assuming it is widely adopted," said Mr Van Senten.

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