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Disease Watch Videos

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, 2008

Disease can cause harm to the aquaculture and fishing industries in Australia. Awareness of aquatic animal disease issues by those working in aquatic industries and by the general public can facilitate early reporting, better rapid response actions and more favourable resolution of disease outbreaks. These videos increase awareness of aquatic animal disease by providing training and information on aquatic animal health.

Note: the video files below are large in size. Some people with slow internet connections may experience difficulties downloading these files.

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Overview

Each video here provides an overview of a different element within the Australian aquaculture industry. They provide statistics, evidence-based analysis, and broad disease awareness and control strategies.

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NARRATOR:The fishing industry is a key part of Australia’s primary industries, and depends heavily on abundant and healthy fish populations.

Incorporating the wild catch, aquaculture and recreational sectors, the industry generates large export earnings, creates high employment in regional Australia and plays a significant role in Australia’s economy.

As the industry evolves, great care is needed to ensure that Australia maintains its competitive advantage and continues to provide the world with premium quality seafood and great recreational fishing experiences.

Australia’s geographical isolation has given the industry a head start in keeping stock and their environments disease free. To maintain Australia’s ‘clean and green’ fishing industry however, requires commitment and alertness.

The risk of an outbreak of an exotic disease is real and the results could be devastating.

Poor management practices or compromises in environmental quality, natural or artificial, could potentially cost millions of dollars and destroy not only years of valuable research, but a lifetime of hard work.

With a cooperative approach we can avoid serious health impacts and build a prosperous future for the Australian fishing industry.

This multimedia kit has been created by The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, as a resource for all sectors of the industry.

It contains information about the risks, signs that you can be aware of and what you can do to help keep Australia’s seafood ‘clean and green’.

So please take time to watch the videos, read the handouts and stay in touch via the website.

Video 1: Australian commercial aquaculture industry

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NARRATOR:The fishing industry is a key part of Australia’s primary industries, and depends heavily on abundant and healthy fish populations.

Incorporating the wild catch, aquaculture and recreational sectors, the industry generates large export earnings, creates high employment in regional Australia and plays a significant role in Australia’s economy.

As the industry evolves, great care is needed to ensure that Australia maintains its competitive advantage and continues to provide the world with premium quality seafood and great recreational fishing experiences.

Australia’s geographical isolation has given the industry a head start in keeping stock and their environments disease free. To maintain Australia’s ‘clean and green’ fishing industry however, requires commitment and alertness.

The risk of an outbreak of an exotic disease is real and the results could be devastating.

Poor management practices or compromises in environmental quality, natural or artificial, could potentially cost millions of dollars and destroy not only years of valuable research, but a lifetime of hard work.

With a cooperative approach we can avoid serious health impacts and build a prosperous future for the Australian fishing industry.

This multimedia kit has been created by The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, as a resource for all sectors of the industry.

It contains information about the risks, signs that you can be aware of and what you can do to help keep Australia’s seafood ‘clean and green’.

So please take time to watch the videos, read the handouts and stay in touch via the website.

Video 2: Recreational and sport fishing

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NARRATOR: Recreational and sport fishing are pastimes for three million Australians, who spend $1.9 billion annually in pursuit of their fishing. Like aquaculture, the value of our recreational fisheries is enhanced by the freedom from many fish diseases that cause problems overseas.

Significant economic benefits from recreational fishing flow to many regional areas, including jobs in the tourism, tackle, boating, and charter industries. Charter boats support game fishing, fresh water, estuarine and coastal fishing, skin-diving and snorkeling activities, and there is a diverse boat-hire and service industry.

Recreational and sport fishing are extremely important and valuable to Australian society and to the national economy. But fishing depends for its existence entirely on one natural resource—fish.

The future of fishing and the quality of our fishing experience will be determined by the way we look after or manage our aquatic and marine environments.

They must be managed properly and efficiently to maximise benefits to all concerned and to ensure the preservation and health of the resource itself.

GRAHAM PIKE, RecFish Australia: We have 3,300,000 fishers in the country and they are really frontline fishers, a sea of eyes and ears, if you like. They’re out there, they’re fishing, they’re out in the environment, they’re out on the waters. They’re a frontline of defense against disease. They’re likely to be the first to see the onset of disease of the effects of pest introduction. If we can really sensitise out frontline fishers to be more aware of what to look for and to report it when they see something untoward, then we’ve got a much better chance of keeping our precious natural fish stocks as they are.

There are a very wide range of threats to our fish stocks. Certainly, disposing of aquarium fish in our waterways, any waterway, even down the toilet, is a major threat to our wonderful Australian fish stocks. But then we have others, for example, the use of bait and burly. You should use only local bait and burly, that is, Australian product. Don’t, when you’ve finished with your bait and you’ve got any left over, don’t leave it lying around, don’t leave it to feed to the birds. If you want to reuse it, take it home, or dispose of it properly in garbage bins. Don’t leave it in the environment—that bait and burly could be carrying disease as well. Don’t move any live fish from one location to another. Take only enough for your immediate needs. Release the excess at the same location.

There is absolutely no doubt that Australia’s recreational fishing is world class. That’s why we have increasing numbers of people coming here just to fish. And in fact, to give you one example, we have the only disease free stocks of Atlantic salmon in the world, and we’ve got to keep it that way. We’ve got to keep our fish disease free.

Video 3: Research in the aquaculture industry

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NARRATOR: Aquaculture is an industry that demands technically specialised conditions and a great deal of knowledge about the habits and life cycle of each fish species.

It can take years of research to domesticate a new species effectively.

Stocking densities, water quality, breeding conditions, animal behaviour, health and precise nutritional requirements all have to be addressed to successfully grow species such as salmon, bluefin tuna, oysters, prawns barramundi, silver perch and abalone.

It is scientific and technical knowledge that is driving competitiveness in the industry, by improving fish health and nutrition, and by reducing stress and disease and encouraging the development and use of vaccines.

Developments in aquaculture have seen companies breeding fish to improve traits such as their own growth rate, conversion of feed into flesh, resistance to disease, tolerance of cold and poor water, and fertility.

And this is only the beginning.

MARK CRANE, Australian Fish Diseases Laboratory at the CSIRO: If the farm personnel suspect that there is a problem and suspects a disease, the first thing that he should do is contact the local authorities, that is the state department who have the responsibility for managing the outbreak, should it turn out to be an infectious disease.

Some farms may have built up a rapport with universities, or with veterinary consultants, and if those consultants or universities suspect a disease then they should also contact the state department. It is the state department that is the key to controlling and managing the disease outbreak. They have the resources, the personnel and the legislation backing them to do that.

On farm and between farms there should be good sanitary control. That is, that you don’t let any person walk onto your farm, you do have some biosecurity, that if there are delivery trucks coming on, that they are disinfected if they have been to another farm previously, that there should be water baths between your production units, there should be good independent equipment for each of your production units, so you don’t accidentally cross-contaminate if you do have an outbreak in an individual production unit.

There are certain diseases that are probably a higher risk than others. There are some diseases that the agents have a broad host range that they can come in through the wild fish that are attracted to aquaculture operations. We’ve got a very strong quarantine policy in this country and I believe that it’s more likely that the infectious agent will come in via wild fish.

I think if the farm is managed well, that you do reduce the risk of disease. Even in the presence of infectious agents, if you keep the levels of stress down through low handling, good feed, good water quality, you can reduce the impact of that infectious agent and you may not, in fact, have an outbreak of disease in the presence of that organism.

Video 4: Government (federal and state) role in protecting aquatic animal health

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NARRATOR: Our relatively disease-free aquaculture industry is a market advantage afforded to Australia that both farmers and the government are striving to maintain. Aquaculture workers and the people who routinely visit aquaculture sites all have a part to play.

Vets, government advisers, training institutions, as well as recreational and sport fishers, who are ideally placed to spot and report sick or dead fish at a very early stage, all have a critical part to play in keeping the Australian aquaculture industry disease free.

Animal biosecurity is one of three operating groups within Biosecurity Australia. Its role, in consultation with industry and the community, is to protect Australia’s animal health status and the natural environment. It achieves this by developing import requirements for live animals (including aquatic animals) and their genetic material and products. Its role is also to improve market access opportunities by negotiating other countries’ import requirements for Australian animals and animal genetic material.

While Biosecurity Australia is developing policy for imports and market access, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, or AQIS, is the body that establishes and operates the programs that turn this policy into reality. AQIS maintains the quarantine barrier on imported animals and products and ensures that diseases do not enter Australia.

In a disease outbreak situation, the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer—also within the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—would cooperate with the Australian state and territory governments and lead the national technical response to this outbreak. The OCVO also drives the preparation of disease emergency plans and training manuals and conducts training exercises for governments and industry.

The Australian state and territory governments offer many and varied incentives for research and development within the aquaculture industry. Detailed information and assistance are available to existing commercial farmers as well as those entering this relatively new marketplace.

EVA-MARIA BERNOTH, Aquatic Animal Health, Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer: The Commonwealth Government does not only assist in preventing the introduction of disease into the country, it also has mechanisms and initiatives in place to help minimise the impact of a disease once it’s here. I’d like to mention AQUAVETPLAN. AQUAVETPLAN is the Australian aquatic animal disease emergency plan. AQUAVETPLAN is really a series of manuals and some of the manuals are disease strategy manuals. They tell you what we would do if a particular disease were to enter Australia. For some diseases that might be trying to eradicate it, for other diseases it might be trying to live with it but prevent its spread to other areas in the country. Now the beauty about these disease strategy manuals is that they’ve been agreed upon by potentially affected industries and governments. So they save a lot of time, because when the situation occurs you already know how you’re going to tackle it.

As part of AQUAVETPLAN we also have technical manuals, such as destruction manuals, or disinfection manuals. If you think about disease outbreaks, say on a salmon cage farm, it’s no mean feat, really, to get those fish out of the water, out of the cages, in a major disease emergency. You need to have licensed divers to do that and you have to consider OH&S issues, obviously. So you really want to have a plan in place where you can go to it quickly and read through what needs to be done in such a case.

Another thing the Commonwealth Government is doing is they’re providing training. They are providing training manuals about disease recognition. There is, for instance, the field guide to identify, or at least tentatively identify, aquatic animal diseases. But the Commonwealth Government also provides training to industry and to state government personnel. We call these exercises ‘simulation exercises’ and they are very, very valuable, especially if we haven’t had major disease outbreak for a certain period of time. People do get a bit complacent. So it’s a very wise thing to do, to pretend there is an emergency and go through it. Usually what happens is certain holes or short comings are identified, then you can tackle them and put remedial action in place in peace time, when there is no real emergency. The biggest threat to Australian aquaculture as goes for diseases, is simply complacency. We’ve been so lucky, as a country, in not really having serious disease outbreaks, compared to overseas countries. There’s always the risk, it’s just human nature, I guess, that you start to get very complacent and think ‘well, if it hasn’t happened in ten years, it’s not going to happen.’ Well, the chances are, it is going to happen sooner or later. You grow live animals, so inevitably there is going to be disease.

Video 5: Australian aquaculture training institutions

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NARRATOR: Training institutions play a key role in keeping the Australian aquaculture industry disease free. While Australian focused initiatives are constantly being examined, we can draw valuable lessons from overseas experiences.

BARBARA NOWAK, University of Tasmania School of Aquaculture: We have a very close relationship with industry and it mostly started with the salmon industry. As soon as the salmon industry started in Tasmania, it was always supported by the School of Aquaculture and we always had very good links. This is reflected partly by employment—our graduates go and gain employment in the salmon industry—but also by the research we provide. Our results are related to the industry at meetings which we have on a regular basis, and we also have workshops. We provide everything, the reports and lots of presentations. In some cases we even go to the farms and give presentations to individual farms and very often the results are used by the farms directly in their changes to husbandry procedures. For example, one of my colleagues, Dr Mark Powell, showed that the water that is used for bathing of salmon with a gill disease has to be very soft and the harder the water, the less effective the bathing is. This is something which the industry now understands and they understand why the different sides have different bathing effectiveness and they can do something about it.

EVA-MARIA BERNOTH, Aquatic Animal Health, Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer: It’s very important for people to get some sort of training in disease recognition. You need to know the normal on your farm, but you then need to know what is abnormal and in order to really be able to do that, some level of training is required. Now, at the farm level, all that might be required is to spot the signs of disease in fish at an early stage. These signs can be very generic but you need to know them, you need to be able to recognise them. This doesn’t mean you need to have a microscope or a laboratory on your farm, just note the signs, the behavioural abnormalities of animals. But then when it comes to the next stage, when a farmer wants to submit samples to a laboratory, in that laboratory you need trained and skilled staff to deal with those samples. Because we’ve got an industry that is developing fairly rapidly and we really have to ensure that there’s a sufficient number of adequately trained and skilled staff around to help those industries develop and help minimise the impact of disease.

NARRATOR: Fortunately, Australia has a long-history in disease detection and management for livestock. Many of the technologies developed to deal with disease problems on the land are now being applied to aquaculture. The aim is to rapidly identify any new disease problem and have the tools and strategies ready to combat the disease.

It’s vital for Australia to maintain its disease free status. Initiatives ranging from border controls and import certification through to enhanced veterinary education and improved capacity to manage incursions of exotic diseases are being put in place throughout the country at both state and territory and national levels.

This integrated and planned approach on aquatic animal health builds on the efforts of both industry and government to date and ensures profitable and sustainable development of Australia's fisheries and aquaculture industries.

However, there is much work to do and the continued involvement and training of all parties across all interest groups is essential.

Prevention

Each video here focuses on a specific area and provides explanations and practical advice on how to avoid the introduction of disease.

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Video 1: Animal quarantine

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NARRATOR: Disease has the potential to devastate the aquaculture and fishing industries, slashing profits and in some cases closing the industry. It is vital that we all act responsibly to prevent the introduction of disease into Australian fisheries.

Movement of live animals

NARRATOR: History has shown repeatedly that the main way to introduce disease into an aquaculture industry is through the movement of live animals. The spread of first white spot disease and now taura syndrome throughout the prawn farming industries in South-East Asia clearly shows that the irresponsible movement of aquatic animals will inevitably lead to the spread of disease.

LEIGH OWENS, James Cook University: It really comes down to the movement of live animals. There’s not been a lot of evidence of animals moving in the wild, say from one country to another country, taking an exotic disease. It’s usually been man’s intervention, carrying product or carrying live animals from one site to another. So the fishery can be protected by having strict controls over the movement of live animals.

Purchasing stock

NARRATOR: Stock should only be purchased from reliable suppliers, known to be disease free and preferably all new stock should come with a health certificate attesting that they are free from important diseases and pests.

Examination

NARRATOR: When receiving delivery of new stock, check them carefully and reject batches displaying obvious disease signs.

BRUCE ZIPPEL, Oyster Farmer, Smoky Bay, SA: It’s important that operators involved with oyster farming ensure that any spat that they have imported has the proper protocols in place, to ensure that it has the proper documentation and is from an authorised source. It’s also importation for any of spat, even if it’s from another bay, or the shifting of oysters between bays, to make sure that there’s nothing being transported with those oysters.

Containment

NARRATOR: Quarantine procedures in the transport of all fish should be rigorously enforced, whether they are arrivals from another farm or simply transfers between ponds or tanks. New animals should be held separately in tanks or ponds to allow for observation and detection of infections.

Treatment

NARRATOR: In some cases, preventative measures such as salt water treatment at five to ten parts per million can be undertaken to kill ectoparasites and promote the healing of wounds caused by capture.

Daily observation of fish appearance, behaviour and feeding activity allows early detection of problems when they do occur so that a diagnosis can be made before the majority of the population becomes sick. The most obvious sign of sick fish is the presence of dead or dying animals. However, the careful observer can usually tell that fish are sick before they start dying because sick fish often stop feeding and may appear lethargic. Healthy fish should eat aggressively if fed at regularly scheduled times. If treatment is indicated, it will be most successful if it is implemented early in the course of the disease while the fish are still in good shape. It is important to remember that disease does not occur just because the pathogen is present in the environment, but is a function of the animal itself, its environment and the pathogen.

COLIN JOHNSTON, Aquatic Animal Health, Primary Industry and Resources, South Australia: Disease in aquatic animals is not a simple process. It’s a complex interaction of factors involving the animals themselves, the environment that they live in and also the presence of the pathogen. It would be extremely rare for just the presence of a disease agent to cause a disease in aquaculture species. Much more commonly, there are a number of environmental factors, or host factors that will render the animals more susceptible to a particular pathogen.

Understanding the three circles of the importance of the host—the animal—the importance of the environment and the presence of the pathogen gives you a very basic approach to some of the things you need to consider if you’re trying to prevent entry and spread of disease on a farm. You’ve got farm management practices, that is, how you look after your animals. You want to ensure high water quality at all times and you want to ensure that the management husbandry procedures are not stressful on the animals. The second one is the environment, making sure that your facilities are ensuring good water quality and monitoring that water quality at all times. The third is obviously you try and prevent the ingress of a pathogen onto your farm or facility. Here we’re talking fairly basic farm level hygiene practices.

MARK CRANE, Australian Fish Diseases Laboratory at the CSIRO: If the farm is managed well, you do reduce the risk of disease. Even in the presence of infectious agents, the fish can be infected but don’t show signs of disease. You keep the levels of stress down though low handling, good feed, good water quality, you can reduce the impact of that infectious agent and you may not in fact have and outbreak of disease in the presence of that organism.

NARRATOR: If disease occurs, seek the advice of a fish health professional as early as possible.

Video 2: Farm hygiene

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NARRATOR: Farm hygiene is important in all aquaculture operations and should be a part of normal farming procedures. Good farm hygiene can prevent the accidental introduction of pathogens onto the farm. Staff and visitors constantly move around the farm and thus have the potential to introduce and spread disease.

Staff should avoid visiting other farms and other places where disease might be picked up. Similarly, equipment should not be shared between farms.

COLIN JOHNSTON, Aquatic Animal Health, Primary Industry and Resources, South Australia: There are five basic areas of farm-level hygiene that you need to consider when you’re trying to prevent disease entry or movement in a farm. They’re very simple. First of all, there’s movement of stock onto or off your farm, or within it. Then you’ve got to consider your water supply; where it’s coming from, how it’s treated. Then there’s movement of people. People can spread disease unknowingly on wet hands or dirty hands or protective clothing. The forth one would be the equipment. How do you disinfect your equipment between areas on your farm or between farms? Finally, potentially there’s an issue of feed. That’s not so important, because generally a lot of feed is now manufactured, but it is worth considering.

GRAHAM MARTIN, Saltas Pty Ltd: There’s a few things we do. We limit vehicles coming onto site. The staff that come onto site change their clothing—street gear is dropped off and they change into work gear. That work gear doesn’t leave the site. We actually have laundry facilities on sight so they can keep it clean. We have foot baths in the critical areas of the farm, so people walking into and out of those areas walk through those footbaths, they don’t carry anything with them.

Footbaths

NARRATOR: The use of footbaths at the entrance to hatcheries and other buildings is not only good practice, but it can help to instill a culture of health management and disease control. It must be borne in mind that organic matter reduces the effectiveness of most disinfectants and the material to be disinfected, including protective clothing, must be clean prior to disinfecting. Established cleaning routines should be in place and monitored, including those following depopulation and deep terminal cleaning. Appropriate storage of equipment and protective clothing must also be provided.

Some thought should also be given to the choice of sanitisers and disinfectants to ensure that they are appropriate for the job. These chemicals should also be stored and accounted for, to prevent any possible contamination.

‘On farm’ outbreaks should be handled by the separation of equipment between production units. For example, don’t use nets or equipment from other ponds, unless they have been thoroughly cleaned and sun dried after previous use.

KEVIN ELLARD, Primary Industries, Water and Environment, Tasmania: We have to show famers that we are doing the right thing—that we are using equipment that can be cleaned down readily, that we are cleaning all our gear before we move between farms. Within regions, we duplicate equipment so that we’re not carting gear. On the farms, for the same reasons, farmers, when they’re moving equipment between farms and between regions especially, need to be vigilante. As I say, we have a number of diseases that are restricted to regions within Tasmania and if we don’t do things appropriately, there is the risk that we will transfer those diseases elsewhere.

NARRATOR: Provision of hand washing facilities and alcohol hand sprays should also be considered to stop contamination of facilities via dirty hands. Each farm needs to have its own specific farm level health plan, including contacts and what to do if there is a disease outbreak.

EVA-MARIA BERNOTH, Aquatic Animal Health, Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer: One of the important things about contingency plans and early intervention in the disease outbreak is that it only works if you know the day to day normal situation. That’s really critical, because you can only detect that something’s wrong if you know perfectly well what is normal. So it’s very important that farmers do their daily checks and walk round the farm and look at the fish and look at what the water looks like, look at the blooms, for instance, in prawn ponds. They have to get a feeling for what is normal, and only then will they be able to tell at first glance that something’s wrong. There is no short cut to that and to a certain extent I guess you’ve got to be a bit pedantic about this and people don’t like that, again it’s human nature, but it pays off in the end. Because only if you know the normal are you going to be able to detect any deviation from the normal very, very quickly and then you can step in early and minimise the damage.

Video 3: Monitoring and investigation

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NARRATOR: The combination of regular observation with detailed and complete farm records provides a basis for disease investigation. If a historical record of water quality parameters, temperature, animal growth, feed conversion ratios and other factors is available, then a farmer can readily tell when things go wrong.

COLIN JOHNSTON, Aquatic Animal Health, Primary Industries and Resources, South Australia: A vet, or other aquatic health professional, will be looking for records of the water quality in your facility, that you’ve recorded oxygen levels and whether there’s algae in the water. They’ll want to see evidence of the feed intake of the animals—whether that’s increased or decreased before any outbreak. They’re going to want to see, perhaps, growth rates as well—you can maybe see a pattern of decreased growth of the fish. They’d love to see records of how many fish you’ve seen, or animals you’ve seen, that have been ill or sick in the pens or the tanks over the preceding few weeks and the mortality records. Especially those where you’ve managed to attribute specific causes to the mortality are a great help in working out whether there’s any spikes in mortality due to physical injuries or infectious disease.

NARRATOR: The responsibility for the prevention of disease does not rest solely with aquaculture farmers. Those involved in the wild catch industry have their part to play as well.

There is always concern that damage could be done to marine life before the source of any problem is discovered. Direct pollution can occur through deliberate or accidental disposal of waste substances at sea, while indirect pollution can result from land-based activities. It has been estimated that at least 40% of marine contaminants come from land-based sources. Those involved in the wild catch industry can perhaps make the most impact on disease prevention by simply reporting to state authorities any observed changes in condition of their catch, or any catch that appear to be diseased or abnormal in any way. This of course also applies to those involved in recreational fishing.

RUSS NEAL, Australian Seafood Industry Council: If there’s any concern at all, get in touch with the relevant authorities. There are many authorities that can help, through the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia, through the state instrumentalities, through researchers, through the Aquatic Animal Health sub-program that’s held by DAFF. Any of these people can assist in making sure that we keep our clean, green, image.

Video 4: Recreational fishing

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NARRATOR: Recreational fishers need to be aware of the potential to introduce or spread disease into or within Australia. There are several practices that need to be avoided at all times. Only local bait should be used. This way, diseases cannot be introduced from overseas or from other areas within Australia.

MURRAY ZIPF, Rocky Point Prawn Farm: The public wouldn’t even probably be aware that there is such a thing as a white spot virus, which if they hooked it on their hook and they went fishing with it, that could be dropped at the bottom of the sea, another prawn could pick that up and eat that and that’s how a disease would start. It’s as simple as that.

NARRATOR: Bait shops may have imported bait on sale but this should be avoided in favour of Australian bait. Anglers should never dump left over bait into the water or leave it on the shore.

The movement of fish from one location to another is the surest way of spreading disease. Anglers should only take enough fish for their own personal needs and release the rest at the point of capture.

All gear should be cleaned before packing away. Everything from the boat through to the rods should be washed before the next fishing trip. There are several diseases that can be spread on fishing gear. Don’t forget to remove mud and aquatic weeds from the boat trailer too.

GRAHAM PIKE, RecFish Australia: Australia’s recreational fishing and our fish stocks will remain world class, provided we apply these common sense rules and maintain that frontline defence against pests and diseases, which do really threaten our priceless fish stocks. If we do get exotic diseases in here, major exotic disease, or we inadvertently spread a disease that may be within the country already, we simply wipe out an industry.

Video 5: Australian Government

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NARRATOR: The Commonwealth Government is acting on a range of levels to protect Australia from the introduction of disease. Biosecurity Australia conducts import risk assessments to determine if it is safe to import fish and fish products into Australia. They also set conditions on these imports so that importation is safe.

SIMON BENNISON, National Aquaculture Council: I don’t think there’s any question that Australia benefits from its geographical isolation in regards to the clean, green images that it has in relation to aquatic animal diseases. But that is combined with a very well educated aquaculture fraternity that are conscious of the problems that disease does cause to their day to day business. There’s no doubt that there is an excellent working relationship between government and industry, in particular, to ensure that best practices are maintained from both an import point of view and, obviously, farm management practices.

NARRATOR: AQIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, maintains our border inspection services to ensure that illegal imports and dangerous materials do not get into the country. In addition to that, staff within the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are implementing a range of projects to protect Australia’s aquaculture and fisheries.

EVA-MARIA BERNOTH, Aquatic Animal Health, Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer: The Commonwealth Government does not only assist in preventing the introduction of disease into the country, it also has mechanisms and initiatives in place to help minimise the impact of a disease once it’s here. I’d like to mention AQUAVETPLAN. AQUAVETPLAN is the Australian aquatic animal disease emergency plan. AQUAVETPLAN is really a series of manuals and some of the manuals are disease strategy manuals. They tell you what we would do if a particular disease were to enter Australia. For some diseases that might be trying to eradicate it, for other diseases it might be trying to live with it but prevent its spread to other areas in the country. Now the beauty about these disease strategy manuals is that they’ve been agreed upon by potentially affected industries and governments. So they save a lot of time, because when the situation occurs you already know how you’re going to tackle it. AQUAVETPLAN also consists of other manuals, such as disinfection or destruction manuals.

Another thing the Commonwealth Government is doing is they’re providing training. They are providing training manuals about disease recognition. There is, for instance, the field guide to identify, or at least tentatively identify, aquatic animal diseases. But the Commonwealth Government also provides training to industry and to state government personnel. We call these exercises ‘simulation exercises’ and they are very, very valuable, especially if we haven’t had major disease outbreak for a certain period of time. People do get a bit complacent. So it’s a very wise thing to do, to pretend there is an emergency and go through it. Usually what happens is certain holes or short comings are identified, then you can tackle them and put remedial action in place in peace time, when there is no real emergency.

What to Do

These videos outline the most important processes to follow to prevent losses due to disease.

Education

This video provides an overview of the educational options available to those interested in pursuing a career in the Australian aquaculture industry. This video covers a range of available courses, from short private courses and workshops to longer TAFE and university options.

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Video 1: Education

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MARK CRANE, Australian Fish Disease Laboratory at the CSIRO: There are several institutions that you can go to to enter the aquaculture sector. There are TAFE colleges for working at technical levels, there would be university courses at a number of different universities around Australia where you can do undergraduate degrees and enter a lab and work on fish biology or fish diseases. You could even then go on to do a doctorate degree and do post-doc in that area overseas, get some experience in other countries, then come back to Australia and work in state labs or in CSIRO or universities at a higher level.

NARRATOR: There are many options and opportunities for aquaculture training available in Australia and around the world. There are different levels and focuses available from relatively basic certificate courses to university degrees, leading to PhD levels and beyond.

Of course the reason people wish to study aquaculture varies and it’s important to match the type of study with the desired outcome. Setting up a commercial aquaculture farm can be an expensive proposition. Those entering into it will have capital at their disposal and should be prepared for the major life-changing consequences of choosing this career path.

It is difficult to set up a commercially viable aquaculture farm of any type for under $500 000, even if you already have land at your disposal. Alternatively, a small hobby level enterprise may be the goal. In either case, a doctorate or Masters degree is not necessarily required. Most people in these categories want to learn enough practical knowledge to set up their farm and run it, knowing that experience will be the real teacher. The key training requirements are going to be:

  • water quality
  • plumbing (pumps, flow rates and so on)
  • biology
  • farm management.

The best type of course in this case is one of the certificate level courses offered.

BARBARA NOWAK, School of Aquaculture, University of Tasmania: Farm managers on most farms have, at least, a university degree. Obviously in some cases it will be replaced with very extensive experience. The advanced diploma, which is two-year course (Advanced Diploma in Aquaculture), provides all the necessary information for starting up an aquaculture business. It’s obviously much better to have a degree in aquaculture, because that leaves much more space to continue education if someone wants to follow it up later on.

Training to work in the industry

NARRATOR: The aquaculture industry, both world-wide and in Australia, has far more qualified staff than it can hope to employ. Training to enter the industry as a labourer on, for example, a prawn farm is not necessary but is a definite advantage.

Off-campus and on-campus TAFE, or similar courses, are ideal for this type of entry into the industry, but like many similar industries, they are no guarantee of a job.

Those who have completed a certificate or diploma are best advised to get themselves on the spot. Prawn farms, with their constant feeding, offer the best chances for employment in the northern states, with the salmon, trout and tuna industries good options in the south.

SHANE RAIDAL, Murdoch University: To become a worker on an aquaculture facility, it would be good for you to do a degree in aquaculture and you can do TAFE training. The Challenger TAFE at Fremantle is very good at providing basic training for aquaculture people. There are also degrees that you can do, if you wanted to do a university degree.

NARRATOR: To be employed by a government aquaculture research body, a bachelor degree can be enough, but industry experience will be important here. For true research positions, a doctorate is essential.

Training in the sciences to get employment in the industry can be a long road, beginning with a bachelor of science. Many institutions now offer this degree in pure aquaculture. A Master’s degree often follows, and then a doctorate. An Honours degree bypasses the Master’s step.

The key to research positions is generally a specialisation that begins almost from the start of higher education.

MICHAEL BOROWITZKA, Murdoch University: Well if you really want to get into research, then a university degree is the best way to do that. Do a bachelor’s degree, then maybe an Honours degree and then do a higher degree. Normally if you’re really strongly interested in research you would go on to do a PhD, do a doctorate. There are many areas of aquaculture where you could do that, which I think covers just about all the interests of someone in the area. You might go into the ecology, the environmental impact on aquaculture, you might work in pathology, diseases and disease management. You might work in engineering—the design of the aquaculture facilities, the sea cages and those areas. So there’s a wide range of different areas, depending on your interests.

Further education

NARRATOR: As well as the many formal tertiary courses available from government institutions around Australia, there’s a range of further education opportunities for those wishing to enter the industry and for those wishing to upgrade skills through workshops and short courses, or conduct specialist research in a preferred field.

Case Studies

These case studies provide an insight into how real aquatic animal disease emergencies have been managed in a number of different industries.

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Case Study 1: Canadian salmon: Paul Hardy Smith

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The devastating consequences of a disease outbreak in the Canadian aquaculture industry.

Paul Hardy Smith, aquaculture veterinarian: I went to Canada to manage the veterinary aspects of a large salmon farming company. We produced about fourteen thousand tonnes of salmon a year. What had happened was we were always aware that we were farming in an area that contained an endemic virus called IHN (infectious haematopoietic necrosis) virus. Fortunately in my time in Canada I’d never come across this virus in any of our stock and I felt myself to be extremely fortunate. However, with this particular incident the farmer had rung me up to indicate that he was seeing death in a few of the cages, basically mortality higher than usual. He’d actually opened up the fish—that’s what part of the training of the farmers had been, to make sure they knew what to look for inside a fish, to see if there were any unusual signs—and hadn’t really been able to see anything that he thought was highly unusual. What unfortunately then transpired was that the actual deaths increased and we started to see other cages being affected which hadn’t been affected before. At that point I flew out to the farm.

We had a vaccine crew just about to leave the farm on the plane that I came in on. Now, with the concern that was happening I actually had to stop that movement, just because I was a little bit worried about what might be happening on the farm and this vaccine crew was going to one of our fresh water sites the following day.

The first thing I noticed was there was some fish in the corners of the cages, looking dark and swimming slowly. Also, there were some belly up, sort of around the edges. I opened up some of those fish and another thing I saw was we were starting to get what we know as haemorrhaging within the body cavity of the fish. This concerned me, especially the way this mortality was going up so quickly. The divers were telling me that the actual numbers of fish dying were increasing sort of by the hour.

What I did then, was I got some samples out of those fish. I held the plane at the farm and managed to fly straight back out with those samples. When I got back to base, I alerted the director of the company that I felt there was something quite serious happening at this farm and got those samples immediately to the lab. We then basically kept in contact with the farm, because to verify that indeed it’s a virus can take some days. During that time we basically shut down the farm. The vaccine crew were not allowed to actually visit the vaccine site they were going to the next day, we stopped that happening. We kept them basically segregated, disinfected their whole entire gear. We also used time in our favour, said ‘look we’re going to allow at least a week before you go to any of the hatchery sites.’ I got together with the director of the company and the salt water and fresh water production managers and we discussed what was happening. The lab had actually inoculated these samples over cell lines and we found that the cell lines had all basically been destroyed by whatever was in these samples. That was of great concern, because one of the things that can do that is toxicity, related from something we had in the fish, or, indeed, a virus. I pursued the lab and said ‘is there any way you can give me a provisional reading on what might have been in that sample?’ They said yes and that came to us that afternoon, that tentatively they had isolated IHN virus.

This, actually, was not a huge surprise to us by this time, because we had, basically in our own minds, ruled out a lot of other things. The way the mortalities had been increasing on the farm, we really knew that it had to be something like the IHN virus, because also there had been IHN on other farms in the area prior to this. So we were aware that it was in this part of the world and had flared up again in Atlantic salmon.

The interesting thing about this particular case was it was in an area that had never had IHN before in Atlantic salmon. We had about eight of our other grow-out sites in this area and about 11 kilometres from this site in question we had our broodstock site, which was extremely valuable to us.

Then that afternoon, on the Monday afternoon, we got together to decide what course of action the company would take. The problem with a farm like this, with over one and a half million fish, is as they start to die they release huge quantities of virus. We believed that the most responsible form of action in this particular case, as much for ourselves as for the surrounding farms—the companies that grew salmon in this area—was to actually remove the whole farm. You’re talking about approximately 250 tonnes of fish in over 25 cages. You want to do it quickly and the hardest thing was working out how. The other thing is that the one thing we did not want to do is in that operation of destroying them, spread any more of the virus. So basically taking those fish away from the farm site to a point where we’re going to dispose of them, we had to make sure that in doing that act we didn’t actually increase the risk to other farms by taking the virus further.

So what we ended up doing was employing three herring boats that were used to work in the herring fishery in British Columbia (these are wild fisheries). They have the facilities on board to remove fish very, very quickly from the water as they do with their herring fisheries. We employed their services to come up to the farm site to actually remove our fish.

At the farm site you’ve got the virus in the fish and you’ve got the virus being released into the water column. So what we’re not too concerned about at the farm site is actually spillage and stuff like that. We’ve already got the virus there. So we got the herring boats and instructed them to remove these fish. It occurred over 48 hours, which was quite phenomenal in respect to how the guys and everyone worked at the farm. What then the herring boats had to make sure was that they had totally sealed holds. These fish had to be totally sealed, because we had to take them to a point where we could offload those fish out of those boats. That was critical.

So basically we removed the main source of the virus. But we had a lot of equipment. We had the nets in the water, we had the floats holding up the system, we had the farm house, we had all those things which can hold virus. So the thing we had to do then was to try and basically clean that whole site and disinfect that whole site, because there’s significant capital in a site like that and we needed that gear to be used in others. We’re talking millions of dollars worth of fish. We’re talking huge resources, not only once the fish have gone, so you’ve lost that resource. You also have to spend a lot of money in the cleanup, as I’ve indicated. It was a major impact on the company. There’s no compensation in this situation, the company took the entire hit themselves, so it was a very responsible thing to do, to do that. Not only that, you take one of our major farm sites—we’re only allowed a certain number of farm sites—out of production and we cannot stock that farm site again because of that fact that we’re keeping it fallow. So it had huge impacts down the line. We’ve also taken out a significant number of our fish from the harvesting schedule a year and a half to two years down the line, which of course means we’ve got to try and work out how we’re going to meet that gap. Major, major disruptions to a fish farm operation. Fortunately, with a company like ours, it was big enough to survive that but a lot of companies wouldn’t have been able to.

Case Study 2: Sydney rock oysters: Robert Adlard

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Studying QX disease in oysters and its impact on the Australian eastern seaboard.

ROBERT ADLARD, Queensland University: The disease I’m looking at in rock oysters is called ‘QX disease’. It was first described in Queensland, hence the ‘Q’. It’s a protozoan parasite, which ends up targeting the digestive gland of the oyster—which is the bit inside the yummy bit you eat—and there it packs out, it proliferates and it starts to sporulate in that particular organ and effectively stops the oyster from absorbing any nutrients, so they starve to death.

When we started the current project, about two years ago, one of the basic things we didn’t know really was where the disease occurred. If you’re managing a disease like this, you want to prevent potentially infected stock moving from one estuary to an estuary where the disease hasn’t been reported. Basic to that, you need to know where the disease is and where it isn’t. That then brings you to, well, how are you going to diagnose it? Ok, we can find it very easily when it’s sporulating and in disease outbreak status. In an oyster it’s not very hard to diagnose at all. But is that the situation you find it in all the time? What periods of the year is it in that kind of development? So these were all questions we were starting to look at when we started the current project. We looked at 22 different estuaries on the east coast of Australia, three in Queensland and the rest in New South Wales. With the help of NSW fisheries, who’s a partner in this project, we ended up getting thousands of oysters into the museum. Our initial diagnosis was done using a very simple and inexpensive test where we had a look at the digestive gland and touched that on a slide, called a tissue imprint method. It’s very cheap, you stain it and you look at it very quickly. However, the sensitivity was an issue, so we developed DNA PCR-type diagnostic assays.

The George’s River is a good example of the kind of impact that this disease can have if it outbreaks in a river. In 1979, the George’s was producing something like $17 million worth of stock. That was at its peak. When I started working the George’s, around the early 90s, it wasn’t as high. It’s a river in the middle of Sydney basically, so there’s a lot of pressure on it and a lot of multiple uses going on there. But it was a very healthy industry in the 90s. In 1994, when I diagnosed the QX disease, there were twenty or so farmers working in the river. Today, you’ll find two brothers who are still working in the George’s and that’s all. Their main source of income is actually removing the oyster infrastructure, all the posts and rails in the river, because effectively the farming in the river is no longer viable.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you stress any aquatic animal, then it’s going to be more susceptible to a range of things. We have to look after the estuary, certainly. If you’re growing a product which is often eaten raw, there is some concern in just what it’s growing in.

It’s a very seasonal disease, too. In mid-summer if you’re starting to see oysters that are sick or gaping or dead oysters on trays, often dead is probably too late to do any particular tests on. Rather than take samples, I think it should probably be reported. I think it’s probably better, once that report’s made, for appropriate people to go and take samples themselves.

Case Study 3: Tasmanian trout: Kevin Ellard

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The successful containment of an aeromonas outbreak in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania.

KEVIN ELLARD, Primary Industries, Water & Environment, Tasmania: Well, within Tasmania in the recent years we’ve had a number of new diseases diagnosed that obviously have affected the industry. One example is the detection of aeromonas in Macquarie Harbour approximately three years ago. That occurred on Ron’s farm, in fish that were on a new lease site. Ron contacted us very quickly, saying that he was concerned that he had elevated mortalities, but also he was noticing sores, or vesicles, on the sides of these fish. Certainly that early communication enabled us to get out here rapidly, dive the cage and observe the population. We also noted a large proportion of fish swimming around with vesicles on their sides. We were then able to sample appropriate fish and send appropriate samples off to the lab and also to AAHL (the Australian Animal Health Laboratory) for confirmation of potential exotic pathogens. Now, as it turned out, that wasn’t aeromonas, or the cause of furunculosis overseas, and we really had to treat it as a fish health emergency and put in place appropriate measures. The measures we put in place were that we discussed the options with Ron early on, we assumed the worst and then basically put those measures in place. Ron chose to destroy the cage, to remove any threat to his neighbouring cages and we prophylactically treated those cages to reduce any possible threat to them.

It was important in that process that we kept neighbours informed and in this case Ron opted to notify the neighbours himself. If he had not done so then we certainly would have. That’s very important, because we need to know if there is any disease on other farms, but also we need to keep people informed so they’re aware that we’re not trying to hide anything and the situation is being well managed. In such events it’s extremely vital that industry is involved, because they have the technical expertise in handling fish, they have the appropriate equipment and it can’t be done without their assistance.

As it turned out, we then had a number of workshops and meetings early on in the piece to discuss the potential impacts of this disease with industry and we certainly, in conjunction with industries, decided on what management strategies would occur for the whole of the industry. We also had to put in place trace forward and trace back surveillance programs, where we went and looked at all the hatcheries that could have supplied fish to Ron’s farm or other farms in Macquarie Harbour—any sources of spread that could have, essentially, infected the stock initially. We also had to look at where fish had gone out of Macquarie Harbour and follow up all those cases so that we were sure that there wasn’t any spread elsewhere. As it’s turned out, this disease has not been found outside of Macquarie Harbour and to date has not had any major impact on the industry. But we’re keeping a close eye on it.

Case Study 4: Scottish salmon: Ron Stagg

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An outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) in Scotland.

RON STAGG, Fisheries Research Service (FRS) Marine Laboratory – Aberdeen, Scotland: The incident that we’re referring to was an outbreak of infection salmon anaemia (ISA) in a salmon farm in Scotland. The first thing that we knew about it was a phone call to our fish health inspectors on a Sunday afternoon from a fish farmer who said ‘we think we’ve got ISA’. At that point the whole works started and within 24 hours there were inspectors on that farm taking samples and they came back into the laboratory for analysis. The inspectors and the laboratory staff immediately have to communicate with the policy branch, who alerts ministers who are going to be affected by such events. Then we have to get down to the business of really diagnosing the disease and finding our whether or not it really was a case of ISA. So on the Monday morning the farmers were in the laboratory, describing what they’d seen and the tests that they’d done. We were running samples and we were starting to look at our contingency plans, which I have to say dealt with some aspects of the things that we had to do, but not all.

Once the disease had been diagnosed by the laboratory, we then move into the public domain, because this is a public interest issue, and we move into alerting other farmers and starting having dialogue with industry representatives about the consequences of that.

There are a huge number of parallel processes going on. In many ways it’s kind of difficult to list them. You also have to be very confident about the diagnosis that you’ve made and inevitably you will find that the exotic diseases you know the least about because you have never seen them. So you are also heavily reliant on outside help. I think one of the most important aspects of dealing with an exotic disease like ISA is that you have well founded laboratories that have a capacity to respond and have the expertise to be able to pick up the specifics of what are slightly different techniques but are basically the same kinds of methods that you would use with diseases that you do have that are endemic.

The next step is, once you’ve confirmed diagnosis, you isolate that farm. Your primary objective at that point is to prevent spread from that farm to other farms. So you have to put in place restrictions on movement of people, movements of fish and equipment. You have to control the disposal of dead fish that might be coming from that epidemic. You also have to immediately try and find out where it’s come from, where it might have gone to in the time that it was incubating on the farm before you were notified. For example, in the ISA case, we think that was for several months and the disease would have been spreading around by practices of farming during that intervening time.

When you move to confirmation, in our case there was no question about what you did next. You had to remove the fish from the farm and eliminate the source of infection. That was a major undertaking, because of the size of the farm, because the infrastructure to cull the fish wasn’t in place and that required a whole range of strategic decisions and planning and the development of expertise which we were quite poorly equipped to deal with at the time. You have to be seen to kill the fish humanely. You have to carry out the process with the minimum likelihood of spreading the infection, so you have to do it in a contained way, and you have to do it quickly. The longer those fish are in the water, the more the likelihood is that that disease is going to spread to another farm, either by an accident or by water borne travel. In that sense, aquatic diseases are unique—we have this media in which aquatic animals live, but it’s moving and spreading all the time. So containment is quite difficult.