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1. Fish health
The aquatic animal health status of the aquaculture sector in England and Wales remains high. The fish disease surveillance programmes found no evidence of listed (notifiable) diseases. Also levels of statutory compliance are good. Non-compliances were for minor administrative issues. These were generally resolved through the provision of advice. There were no prosecutions for non compliance by finfish businesses in 2015.
Skin diseases of unknown cause remain the major disease concern in the trout farming sector (eg red mark syndrome and puffy skin). The FHI helped Cefas research into the epidemiological factors that may influence puffy skin disease outbreaks. This study included detailed monthly sampling on 3 rainbow trout farms who had been affected before by this condition. Research did not progress as well as expected. The incidence of puffy skin was far lower than predicted. This may have been due to the high quality water supplies to the fish farms as compared with previous years.
Over recent years there has been an increase in reports of fungal diseases in migratory salmonids by anglers and river fishery interests. This is often described as ulcerative dermal necrosis (UDN). UDN is a condition of wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout, and has unknown aetiology. It causes small grey erosions of the skin often around the head of the fish. The condition was prevalent in the 1960s, but with only a few reports since then. FHI investigations on rivers have not identified any fish exhibiting UDN’s clinical signs. But on some rivers, we observed adult salmon and trout with extensive lesions across the head and body due to the fungus Saprolegnia parasitica. Such infections are common in wild salmonids in freshwater. They appear to be cyclical in nature and are often exacerbated by environmental events - such as low water flows in rivers. In 2016 we will increase engagement with stakeholders to try and get samples of fish with UDN.
The UK government must have contingency plans for disease outbreaks in aquatic animals. These are tested annually. In November and December members of the FHI participated in ‘Exercise Alpheus’. This was a hypothetical outbreak of the exotic parasite Gyrodactylus salaris in England. It included over 60 participants, including Defra, the devolved administrations, the Environment Agency, and various stakeholder groups. These exercises provide us with important lessons to improve our disease responses.
The health status of fish farms in the non-salmonid sector remained high. There was no evidence for the presence of serious diseases. But KHV disease is the main disease concern in managed fisheries. In the summer we placed 16 Initial Designations on carp fisheries due to suspicion of KHV disease. This is when water temperatures are conducive to disease expression. Eleven sites were positive for KHV disease and then subject to Confirmed Designations. We continue to give biosecurity advice to fisheries to reduce the risk of introducing KHV.
In 2015 there was a continuing trend towards a slow expansion of the aquaculture sector in England and Wales. We undertook 83 pre-authorisation inspections for new aquaculture businesses, whilst 25 businesses were de-authorised.
2. Shellfish health
The diseases Bonamia ostreae and Marteilia refringens remain stable within their current geographical range. Shellfish farming compliance with statutory requirements was good. We prosecuted 1 operator for illegally moving live shellfish from a Confirmed Designation area. It is probable that this movement resulted in the introduction of disease into a previously disease free zone.
Oyster herpesvirus microvariant (OsHV-1 µvar) continued to extend across the Pacific oyster farming sector. A OsHV-1 µvar outbreak was confirmed in the River Roach (Essex) - next to the 2014 outbreak that occurred in the River Crouch. The Confirmed Designation on Whitstable Bay (Kent) was further extended along the north Kent coast. This was due to outbreaks in wild Pacific oyster populations. Finally in autumn 2015, we detected OsHV-1 µvar in the River Teign, Devon. We revised Confirmed Designations to record the new distribution of the disease.
The FHI continued to investigate unexplained shellfish mortalities in shellfish farms and wild stocks in England and Wales. Cefas identified a variety of pathogens have as potential causes of mortality. These included the bacterium Vibrio aestuarianus and the parasite Haplosporidium nelsoni. Yet in most cases the definitive cause of mortality was not identified. We’ve planned further work on unexplained shellfish mortalities by using new diagnostic methods.
We completed a comprehensive review of shellfish disease designation conditions that apply to farms and harvesting areas. This ensured a consistent approach across the different shellfish diseases. All shellfish Confirmed Designation areas were re-issued to operators. GOV.UK was also updated.
3. Advice, representation and Better Regulation
In 2015 we achieved the Cabinet Office’s Customer Service Excellence (CSE) Standard. The government developed this exacting standard for delivery bodies that provide an efficient, effective, excellent, fair and empowering service to the public. It represents an independent validation of achievement. We were the first Executive Agency in Defra to achieve this.
The FHI Aquatic Trade and Technical Advice (ATTA) team provides an advice and applications service to industry and stakeholders. In 2015 they responded to 3,153 telephone enquiries, 381 letters, and around 7,500 emails. Also they issued 391 movement document applications, and certified 1,088 authorisation and registration applications. Our pages on GOV.UK received 37,571 page views.
We also implemented a monthly survey system called ‘Customer Thermometer’. This is a digital customer feedback system and allowed us to survey 590 customers by email. We received a 52% response rate, with 86% giving us an “Excellent” rating. Two paper surveys were also sent out. This was to get feedback from customers without email addresses and those who didn’t respond to the electronic survey. Out of 263 paper surveys, we had a response rate of 32% and an average score of 4.85, out of 5, across 10 performance categories.
The FHI launched a Facebook page to help improve engagement with stakeholders. It currently has over 800 followers. Also Finfish News and Shellfish News publications are now only available on the Cefas Marine Science blog on GOV.UK. We announce new articles using Cefas’s Twitter page.
We continued to engage with industry and wider stakeholders by attending conferences and trade events. This include presentations at events held by the following:
- British Trout Association (BTA)
- Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB)
- Angling Trust
- European Association of Fish Pathologists (EAFP)
- Fish Veterinary Society (FVS).
The FHI also organised joint government agency stands at trade events, including the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) Aqua 2015 conference, and some trade shows.
4. Priorities for 2016
The FHI has identified the following as priority areas for 2016:
- Review and revise aquatic animal health diagnostic protocols. This is following the publication of Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2015/1554 – the EU diagnostic manual.
- Full utilisation of the Starfish database development across the FHI.
- Dissemination of the new live fish movement mobile device application to industry.
- Active and full participation in negotiations on the European Union’s new Animal Health Regulation. This is to maintain and improve legislative provisions for the protection of the UK’s high aquatic animal health status.
- Complete field testing of electronic data collection and incorporate into field programmes.
- Embed FHI intelligence management procedures to follow National Intelligence Model standards.