AQUAPLAN - Australia's National Strategic Plan for Aquatic Animal Health

​​​​​​AQUAPLAN is Australia’s National Strategic Plan for Aquatic Animal Health. The plan outlines objectives and priorities to enhance Australia’s management of aquatic animal health. AQUAPLAN is a collaborative initiative that is developed and implemented by the Australian and state and territory governments and aquatic animal industries.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department) coordinates the development and implementation of AQUAPLAN. National implementation of AQUAPLAN activities and projects is overseen by the Animal Health Committee (AHC) and its Sub-Committee on Aquatic Animal Health (SCAAH) in close collaboration with industry. Australia has had two previous five-year AQUAPLANs. AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 is Australia’s current national strategic plan for aquatic animal health.

AQUAPLAN 2014-2019

AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 is Australia’s third national strategic plan for aquatic animal health. It was endorsed by industry through the National Aquatic Animal Health Industry Reference Group and later by the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum. The plan commenced following ministerial endorsement on 11 August 2014.


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AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 has five objectives and each objective is supported by activities that address specific aquatic animal health management issues. The status of AQUAPLAN’s 24 activities is provided in the tables below each objective (current at November 2017). For more information on any of the AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 activities below please contact the Aquatic Pest and Health Policy team.

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1. Improving regional and enterprise-level biosecurity

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as at November 2017)
1.1. Develop sector-specific biosecurity plan templates and guidance documents The Aquaculture Farm Biosecurity Plan – Generic Guidelines and Template was endorsed by SCAAH and the National Aquatic Animal Health Industry Reference Group (NAAHIRG) in 2016 and is available on the department’s website.
SCAAH endorsed the development proposal for sector-specific aquaculture biosecurity plans in June 2016. Abalone and oyster plans were developed by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), in collaboration with the Australian Abalone Growers Association and Oysters Australia, respectively. These plans were endorsed by SCAAH in October 2017. A draft barramundi plan has been developed by the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association and is close to completion. The Australian Prawn Farmers Association is developing a sector specific plan for the prawn sector, consistent with the Aquaculture Farm Biosecurity Plan.
In progress
1.2. Develop a program to support farms to develop and implement enterprise-level biosecurity plansThe SCAAH biosecurity plan working group (WG) has been established to oversee implementation of this activity and held its first teleconference on 8 November 2017.
The WG will develop a proposed approach and budget for the implementation of this activity. Members agreed that a survey was the best first step to assess industry needs and approaches to address them..
In progress
1.3. Develop a model aquaculture enterprise health accreditation scheme using abalone aquaculture as an exampleThe Abalone Health Accreditation Program was endorsed by Animal Health Committee (AHC) and provided to industry. Implementation of the program is now occurring at a jurisdictional level, including development of biosecurity plans.Complete

2. Strengthening emergency disease preparedness and response capability

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as at November 2017)
2.1. Implement an agreed work plan to develop industry–government emergency aquatic animal disease response arrangements (the Aquatic Deed)The department has funded Animal Health Australia (AHA) to project manage this activity. A WG has been formed to oversee implementation of the work plan. The WG includes representatives from all major industry sectors (tuna, abalone – aquaculture & wild capture, salmon, prawns, edible oysters, pearl oysters, barramundi, and aquarium industries), together with Government representatives.
Development of draft deed text has progressed rapidly. Policy issues considered include: proposal for a three thirds funding agreement, a process to agree to alternative funding proportions, response plan funding limits, among government cost-sharing, among industry cost-sharing, application of the deed to capture fisheries, and eligible costs. AHA has prepared a business case outlining its proposed costs and services as potential custodian of the Aquatic Deed.
A complete draft deed is due to be completed by the end of 2017. Legal drafting review will be undertaken in early 2018. Consultation on the draft deed will culminate in a joint industry and government workshop to be held mid-2018.
In progress
2.2. Develop a program of national and sector-specific emergency aquatic animal disease response exercises, including field and operational activitiesA review of the past exercises and potential development of evaluation guidelines were discussed at SCAAH-25 in March 2016. Emergency Response Exercises (ERE) WG terms of reference and work plan revised and re-endorsed by SCAAH in October 2016. The revisions relate to the review process of completed response exercises. ERE WG Milestones 1–5 are complete. Milestone 6 commenced in November 2016.In progress
2.3. Strengthen national first-response capability to ensure inclusion of specific aquatic animal disease expertiseThe first round of consultation addressing the new model and role of the cross-sectoral Rapid Response Team (RRT) was completed in August 2016.
The second round of consultation addressing the resourcing and management of the cross-sectoral RRT was completed and was endorsed by the NBC on 15 February 2017. The RRT will now be known as the National Biosecurity Response Team (NBRT).
The National Biosecurity Committee endorsed the arrangements for the NBRT from 1 July 2017. It was agreed that the department, AHA and Plant Health Australia would manage the NBRT, in a joint approach, from 1 July 2017; when the NBRT management arrangements were implemented. Recruitment for the NBRT is now complete. Ongoing activities to support and develop the skills and knowledge of members have commenced.

3. Enhancing surveillance and diagnostic services

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as at November 2017)
3.1. Identify possible improvements to increase the sensitivity of Australia’s passive surveillance systems for aquatic animal diseasesA SCAAH WG has been established to guide implementation of this activity. Terms of reference (TOR) have been agreed upon. A national survey for laboratories scoping passive surveillance data sources has been developed and circulated. The WG discussed responses to the survey, and possible ways forward, on 17 August 2017.
A funding proposal has been prepared by the department for the next stage of the project and WG stewardship will therefore transition to the department.
In progress
3.2. Make the Aquatic animal diseases significant to Australia identification field guide available as an application for mobile devicesThe final version of the App was successfully deployed across Android, Windows and iOS platforms in March 2017.Complete
3.3. Undertake aquatic animal health benchmarking for specific aquaculture industry sectorsInitial discussion was undertaken with some industries and a benchmarking framework is being developed. A letter for expressions of interest is to be sent by the project leader to all potentially interested industry sectors by the end of November 2017.
Industry interest in benchmarking will be canvassed through the survey undertaken through activity 1.2.
In progress
3.4. Adopt processes (new or existing) for formal recognition of validation status of diagnostic tests and identify specific test validation prioritiesThe SCAAH validation testing WG presented its report for comment at SCAAH-25 in March 2016. Comments were addressed and the report was finalised on 22 March 2016. The WG completed its work plan in August 2016. It noted on-going nature of validation work.
Further activities under activity 3.4 (e.g. validation of specific diagnostic tests) continue as Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper initiatives.
3.5. Develop stable positive control material and internal controls for molecular tests for detection of important endemic and exotic pathogensThe Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) Project 2014/002 “Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: Development of stable positive control material and development of internal controls for molecular tests for detection of important endemic and exotic pathogens” is nearing completion – all of the project activities have been completed, and the final report of the FRDC funded project is being endorsed.
Positive control materials for 32 PCR assays have been prepared. Materials distributed to laboratories, on request.
3.6. Develop validated diagnostic tests for significant new and emerging diseases of aquatic animals in AustraliaProjects on Abalone herpesvirus, Pilchard orthomyxo-like virus (POMV) and prawn viruses are complete (FRDC Projects 2009/032, 2013/033 and 2013/036, respectively). The final report for the project investigating Oyster oedema disease has been submitted and an industry workshop convened (FRDC Project 2013/002).
Projects investigating Yellow head virus genotypes, Perkinsus olseni, and Penaeus monodon mortality syndrome are in progress (FRDC Projects 2015/005, 2016/009 and 2016/013, respectively).
Australia’s network of aquatic animal disease diagnostic laboratories may identify other priorities of aquatic animal disease significance
In progress
3.7. Improve the breadth of data in Neptune, particularly histopathology slide collectionsThe Neptune facility includes a 200 slide collection and a database of the most published records for aquatic animal diseases and pathogens in Australia.  SCAAH became the primary consultative body for decisions affecting the maintenance and operation of Neptune in November 2014. The CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) agreed to host Neptune from June 2015.
CSIRO-AAHL is currently recruiting an IT specialist to re-establish and manage Neptune. This work has been funded through the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper.
In progress
3.8. Describe existing components of Australia’s aquatic animal disease diagnosis network to identify interactions, responsibilities and performance measuresSpecific components of the network include:
  • Australian and New Zealand standard diagnostic procedures (ANZSDPs) for aquatic animal diseases: work plan developed and endorsed. ANZSDPs in progress.
  • National laboratory proficiency testing program: 2013-15 program complete. Program in review and final report drafted. 2017-19 program has commenced. 
  • Aquatic animal health technical forum: 2013-15 program complete. Final report available on the FRDC’s website (FRDC Project 2012/002). The next FRDC Aquatic animal health technical forum will be held at CSIRO-AAHL in February 2018.
  • Aquatic Slide of the Quarter: SCAAH now the administrator. Program is on-going. 
  • Laboratories for Emergency Animal Disease Diagnosis and Response (LEADDR): Ostreid herpesvirus-1, white spot syndrome virus and Megalocytivirus tests included in proficiency testing.
  • Neptune: see activity 3.7.  
In progress

4. Improving availability of appropriate veterinary medicines

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as at November 2017)
4.1. Consider aquatic animal production issues to inform development of the national antimicrobial resistance strategySCAAH members provided input on aquatic animal production issues to inform the National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2015-2019. The strategy is now available on the department’s website and an implementation plan is under development.
The department will discuss with aquaculture industries about activities that would be useful to them. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) now requires all Member Countries to report on antibiotic use.
4.2. Run an industry–government workshop to identify ways to improve access to veterinary medicines and chemicals, including low-risk chemicalsThe National Aquaculture Council (NAC) participated in the AgVet Collaborative Forum program meetings including the AgVet Prioritisation Workshop in June 2015. Aquaculture’s existing and categorised priorities have been registered on a master list of priorities of all animal and plant sectors, and work is ongoing.Complete
4.3. Develop arrangements to improve industry coordination of minor use permit applications to the APVMAThe aquaculture industry is coordinating a variety of minor use permit applications to the Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). This industry led project is assisted by SCAAH’s Aquatic Veterinary Medicines WG, which includes a NAC and Aquaculture Committee representative. Industry and the Aquaculture Committee continue to work on this issue. A list of registered, permitted, soon to expire and non-permitted products requiring an APVMA application are regularly discussed and updated. The WG is in discussion with the department and FRDC to determine funding opportunities.In progress
4.4. Strategically consider long-term regulatory conditions to address market failure for aquatic veterinary medicinesNAC continues to work with the department’s AgVet Chemicals Reform group and the APVMA to understand and address the particular needs of aquaculture in the overall AgVet reform process and to influence long term regulatory conditions to improve access to aquatic veterinary medicines where possible.In progress
4.5. Develop guidance documentation to improve industry understanding of regulations and risks of inappropriate veterinary medicine and chemical useThe SCAAH WG have developed, and update as required, a table summarising aquatic veterinary medicine regulation in each jurisdiction. A pamphlet for industry is being developed to provide guidance on good practice and responsible veterinary medicine use.In progress

5. Improving education, training and awareness

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as at November 2017)
5.1. Review the Aquatic Animal Health Training Scheme (2013–14)A review report of the 2013-15 Aquatic Animal Health Training Scheme was completed in late 2015 (FRDC Project 2009-315). Positive feedback was received on the report and recommended that the scheme continues.Complete
5.2. Assess requirements for a national aquatic animal health curriculum that can be adapted for end-users ranging from vocational training to higher educationTwo FRDC projects were funded:
  • 2013/414: A review of vocational education and training aquatic animal health programs within Australia. Final report available on the FRDC website.
  • 2014/403: Development of a national aquatic animal health curriculum for delivery by tertiary institutions. This project funded a national workshop that was convened on 13–14 February 2014. Final report available on the FRDC website.
SCAAH is to review FRDC reports 2013/414 and 2014/403 and, if appropriate, next steps to be identified for activity 5.3.
5.3. Develop national aquatic animal health curriculums for veterinary and vocational educationThe SCAAH Educational Material WG has been formed to further develop this activity after preparatory work through a review of the two FRDC projects 2013/414 and 2014/403 (see activity 5.2). The WG’s TOR were endorsed by SCAAH in October 2017.
Next steps include SCAAH discussion on whether or not a further project is to be proposed to address curricula development and preparation of training materials, and to determine how to make the materials available to stakeholders.
In progress
5.4. Develop short-course training material for industry on management of aquatic animal disease incidents (including reporting procedures, collecting samples for laboratory diagnostics and record keeping)The SCAAH Educational Material WG is updating a draft list of educational material available to industry. The draft list will be sent to SCAAH for review by the end of 2017.In progress
5.5. Develop an AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 Communication StrategyAn AQUAPLAN Communications Strategy was endorsed by SCAAH and AHC in 2014, and will be reviewed annually at the SCAAH face-to-face meeting, and updated as required.Complete