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1. Fish Health
The Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) completed statutory compliance and disease surveillance inspections on all fish farms in England and Wales. The level of compliance with legislative requirements by the industry is exceptionally high. Most non-compliances were minor in nature and associated with administrative issues which were resolved through the provision of advice. No finfish businesses were prosecuted for non-compliance in 2016.
In March 2016, the FHI introduced electronic collection of data during compliance and surveillance inspections using tablet technology. This technology has removed the need for paperwork in the field (saving an estimated 21,000 pieces of paper), improved the validation of data collected and facilitated the real-time submission of data to the Starfish database. Inspectors working in the field have improved access to information such as conditions of authorisation of farms, and biosecurity measures plans thus providing a more effective and efficient service to stakeholders.
The health status of fish farms in England and Wales in both the salmonid sector and the coarse fish sectors remains high. Apart from one KHV disease outbreak on a farm in an educational establishment, surveillance programmes have found no evidence of listed diseases in fish farming. Risk based surveillance on imported live fish and fish ova has continued with no listed diseases detected. The major disease concern in trout farming continues to be skin diseases, with red mark syndrome and puffy skin resulting in economic losses in both the table and restocking markets.
Koi herpesvirus (KHV) disease has continued to have a significant impact on managed carp fisheries in 2016. The year saw the highest number of disease events on fisheries reported to the FHI and the highest number of confirmed designations (CD’s) made since the disease became listed in 2007 with 33 fisheries subject to statutory controls. In addition 2 further sites underwent disease eradication. Outbreaks of KHV disease started earlier in 2016 than has been the experience in the past. Higher spring temperatures that exceeded the minimum permissible temperature for clinical expression of disease, lower diurnal fluctuations in ambient water temperatures, and a series of low pressure weather fronts combining to stress fish populations, and increase susceptibility to infections. Outbreaks also extended further into the autumn as a result of infection from earlier in the year becoming evident to fishery managers. However compliance with conditions of designation showed an improvement compared with previous years due to the provision of increased advice and guidance to the sector.
One of the major threats to Atlantic salmon Salmo salar populations in the UK is the exotic ectoparasite Gyrodactylus salaris. The UK has a number of measures in place to reduce the risk of its introduction, and in order to demonstrate freedom from infection, we have conducted disease surveillance on river catchments with self-sustaining populations of salmon for a number of years. In 2016 the FHI introduced the use of a novel non-destructive method, developed at Cefas, for sampling wild salmonids. This method involves the immersion of fish in a hydrogen peroxide solution which removes the gyrodactylids whilst leaving the fish unharmed. The parasites can then be recovered for analysis whilst the live fish are returned to the river. This technique has increased the number of fish sampled from each river catchment, and increased the harvest of gyrodactylids, which improves the statistical confidence in the sampling programme. This method represents an important step forward in surveillance for gyrodactylids in both wild and farmed fish populations as it removes the need for destructive testing of juvenile Atlantic salmon, a species subject to national and international conservation measures. This new technique has been incorporated into Defra’s national aquatic animal disease contingency plans. Cefas will publish the methodology and will then request that it is considered for inclusion in the OIE manual for diagnostic tests for aquatic animals.
Sea lice infestations in marine Atlantic salmon farming continue to present economic, environmental and animal welfare challenges to the sector. The paucity of effective therapeutic treatments has resulted in a resurgence of interest in cleaner fish as a biological control mechanism. The main species used are farmed and wild lumpsucker (Cyclopterus lumpus) and various species of wild caught wrasse of the family Labridae. Considerable numbers of cleaner fish are in demand by salmon farms resulting in the emergence of a new aquaculture sector cultivating these species in England and Wales. The FHI has advised farms on biosecurity measures and negotiated bilateral agreements with exporters of ova in Norway and Iceland to ensure that imported stock meets health certification requirements. A member of the FHI contributed to a scientific working group established by the European Union Reference Laboratory for Fish Diseases on guidelines for the management of cleaner fish in the EU. The FHI is also continuing investigations into the prevalence of bacterial diseases of wild caught wrasse.
2. Shellfish Health
Disease surveillance programmes in the shellfish sector indicated that infection with the listed protozoan parasites Bonamia ostreae and Marteilia refringens remains stable with no additional geographical spread of infection. B.ostreae continues to affect the main native oyster Ostreae edulis growing areas, and is a contributory factor in limiting the progress of native oyster regeneration schemes. M.refringens is restricted to infection in edible mussel Mytilus edulis populations in a single estuary system. Statutory compliance across the shellfish aquaculture sector remains high, with few non-compliances identified, all of which were resolved through advice. There were no prosecutions of shellfish farms in 2016.
The Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) dominates oyster production in the UK with an annual production of some 1,822 tonnes, of which England produces 1,026 tonnes (2015 figures). However in England oyster herpesvirus microvariant OsHV-1 µvar continues its spread in oyster farming and harvesting areas. The first outbreak occurred on a farm in Whitstable, Kent in 2010. In subsequent years the disease spread along the north coast of Kent, and outbreaks occurred in the Essex creeks and the Blackwater estuary, Essex. In September a sample of Pacific oysters taken from a buffer zone to the north of the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames estuary proved to be positive for OsHV-1 µvar. These oysters are part of a naturally occurring stock that is unmanaged, and as yet unexploited. As a result of this outbreak the Confirmed Designation on North Kent has been extended to join with the Confirmed Designation in Essex to become the Kent and Essex Designated area (CD23/2016). This extension will facilitate movements of shellfish within the Thames estuary and so assist shellfish farmers in managing stocks whilst providing protection to unaffected areas.
Unexplained mortality events continue to sporadically affect shellfish farms in England. Investigations have identified a number of potential causative agents including haplosporidian parasites of two species, Haplosporidium nelsoni and Haplosporidium costale, bacteria of the genus Vibrio (including Vibrio aestuarianus which is considered to be an important pathogen on continental shellfish farms), and the wild form of oyster herpesvirus (generally considered to be of low pathogenicity). Research is continuing into shellfish diseases on farms growing oysters for consumption but also with a particular focus on the influence of bacterial pathogens in the hatchery production of juvenile oysters.
Crayfish plague, an infection caused by the fungal pathogen Aphanomyces astaci, is a major factor in the decline of the native white clawed crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes in England. Whilst over recent years, measures put in place to control the disease, have slowed the spread of infection, outbreaks were recorded in three new river systems in Gloucestershire and in Worcestershire in 2016
3. Advice, Representation and Better Regulation
Following the award of the Cabinet Office’s Customer Service Excellence (CSE) standard in 2015 the FHI was subject to a further audit by independent consultants on the quality of delivery to stakeholders. Further progress was made in achieving the required standard in the 57 criteria under assessment. The audit report stated that the assessor was impressed with the commitment to providing good quality customer focussed service. The FHI remains the only team within Defra’s Executive Agencies to achieve CSE.
The FHI has formal accreditation for disease sampling and diagnostic testing under the international standard ISO17025. In 2016 a full re-assessment of the accredited functions was undertaken by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) who found no non-compliances. The accreditation was therefore renewed.
Aquaculture Production Businesses in England and Wales have a high level of legislative compliance. In 2016, 20 warning letters and 12 enforcement notices were issued mainly for failure to comply with conditions of a confirmed designation. In addition, 79 notices under the Trade in Animal and Animal Products Regulations 2010 were issued to authorised importers associated with trade anomalies, with an additional 15 warning letters, and no enforcement notices served. This represents a significant reduction in enforcement actions on this sector as compared with previous years.
The FHI Aquatic Technical Advice (ATA) team provides an advice and application service to stakeholders. In 2016 the team responded to 3,051 telephone enquiries, 134 letters (6 months data only) and 8,988 email enquiries. In addition 244 movement document applications were processed, and 948 authorisation and registration applications completed. The FHI forms and guidance pages on the GOV.UK website received 51,754 page views, an increase of 38% over 2015.
The FHI use a monthly survey called ‘Customer Thermometer’ to assess stakeholders views of the quality of service provided. This is an electronic system of obtaining feedback. A total of 874 customers were invited to respond to the survey with a 43% response rate. Of the responses received 85% rated the FHI service as excellent and 13% as good. A small paper based survey of 42 stakeholders was undertaken with a 19% response rate and a customer satisfaction score of 92%.
To help improve engagement with stakeholders, the FHI launched a Facebook page in 2015. Engagement with stakeholders has increased significantly and it currently has over 2,400 followers. In 2016 the total number of views on the FHI page was 584,461, the Facebook page has been engaged on other newsfeeds 48,254 times, and the FHI enforcement video has been viewed 99,879 times.
Fish Health Inspectors have delivered presentations on various aspects of aquatic animal health at a variety of conferences and meetings including those organised by the Fish Veterinary Society, the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, the British Trout Association, the Angling Trust, the European Association of Fish Pathologists, and the European Aquaculture Society. In addition the FHI attended a number of trade events to promote good biosecurity practice with stakeholders.
The FHI has continued to work in conjunction with other regulatory bodies on investigations into illegal activities, and has introduced a new intelligence database and intelligence handling system that meets the standards of the National Intelligence Model. Work is continuing on establishing common standards of intelligence handling across the Defra regulatory bodies, and in supporting effective regulation through for example, support of the Angling Trusts enforcement workshops.
The successful mission on the UK’s aquatic animal health regulatory regime undertaken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides a template for future missions by other countries which are likely to become regular events following the UK exit from the European Union.
Members of the FHI have provided expert support and representation to a number of organisations including the European Union’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), the European Commission, the European Union National Reference Laboratory (EURL), and the world organisation for animal health (OIE).
4. Priorities for 2017
The FHI has identified the following as priority areas for 2017:
- make active and full contribution to negotiations in the European Union’s new animal health regulation to facilitate improvements in aquatic animal health within Europe and provide support to Defra on aquatic animal health issues in respect of any negotiations on the UK exit from the European Union.
- revise and reissue guidance documentation for aquaculture production businesses
- completion of the Starfish database development through the incorporation of the diagnostic services application into the system
- publication of the automatic fish and shellfish disease alerts system, and promotion of the electronic live fish movements web service