Biosecurity practices minimize the risk of introducing and spreading infectious diseases or disease-causing pathogens into fish farm facilities, as well as to other sites and other susceptible species. Good biosecurity not only safeguards fish health, but also helps to ensure food supply safety, and protects the economic investment and reputation of the fish farm. Biosecurity should be part of any aquaculture facility’s management plan, and includes three interrelated tenets:
- Animal Management
- Pathogen Management
- People Management
Biosecurity practices start with obtaining fish stock. Procuring eggs and broodstock from trustworthy sources with their own biosecurity infrastructure is the first step to raising healthy, disease-free fish. Learn as much about new sources of stock as possible, including any examinations, testing, or treatments the fish have undergone. Good fish farming practices, including active management of water quality and systems and providing adequate nutrition, will facilitate health and prevent disease in stock populations. Conditions that stress the fish or injure fish will weaken fish immunity to pathogens. Finally, new stock should be fully quarantined from other fish in the facility to safeguard against spreading possible diseases unintentionally introduced by new stock.
Pathogen management starts at the water source and ensuring it is tested and safe. City or regional water sources or deep wells often harbor fewer pathogens and contaminants than surface water or shallow wells. Pathogens may also enter facilities in the air, on equipment, or on people’s hands and shoes. Specific diseases and pathogens discovered on the farm may require depopulation, as well as reporting to local, state and federal authorities.
At the PAES W.A.T.E.R. fish farming research facility in Apopka, Fla., the staff work to maintain the health of their fish population and minimize pathogens in their stock by sampling and testing fish on a regular basis.
"It is important to identify the potential pathogens that can affect the species of fish you are culturing, then design your biosecurity plan to target those pathogens," said Caroline Capobianco, a laboratory technician at PAES W.A.T.E.R. "The ultimate goal is to prevent them from ever entering the facility. It is also extremely important to find a veterinarian that works with fish and establish a relationship with them. Make a plan so that you know who to call and what to do if you ever have a pathogen outbreak."
Staff education and a team commitment to biosecurity ensures proper protocols are followed within the facility. Written rules for workers and visitors promote understanding and consistency. Visitors who’ve recently been on-site at another aquaculture facility should be considered risky. Handwashing stations, disinfecting footbaths, showers, and vehicle and net disinfection can minimize the spread of pathogens between fish populations within the facility. Ongoing education for staff will keep them updated on the latest diseases and updates to biosecurity rules and processes.
Creating a Biosecurity Plan
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for biosecurity that can be followed by every facility, as each will have its own unique infrastructure and risks to manage. When developing your biosecurity plan, consider the following:
- Regulatory requirements and purpose
- Major pathogen transmission routes into and out of the facility
- Major disease risks
- Facility layout
- Staff and employee protocols
- Implementation specifics
- Review cycles and ongoing training
A solid biosecurity plan will not guarantee that your fish farm is free of pathogens, but can help reduce the risk of spreading diseases that can greatly impact fish farm populations.
For a more in-depth primer on biosecurity, explore Biosecurity in Aquaculture, Part 1 published by the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center.