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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 2017.
The health status of fish farms in England and Wales in both the salmonid sector and the coarse fish sectors remains high. 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. However listed diseases remain an important cause of disease in managed fisheries.
Spring viraemia of carp (SVC) has been listed as a notifiable disease of fish since 1973, initially as infectious dropsy of cyprinids in any of its forms including spring viraemia and in 1984, redefined as SVC, a listed disease in its own right. The UK experienced sporadic outbreaks of SVC over a number of years which were controlled through the application of statutory disease control measures. During the period 2006-2010 a comprehensive surveillance and eradication programme was completed, following which Great Britain obtained recognised freedom from SVC. With the exception of a single outbreak in a fishery in Northamptonshire in 2011 which was eradicated, there have been no other instances of this disease in GB. However, in April 2017 following reports of mortalities in a number of fish species at Arden Fisheries, a managed coarse fishery in Warwickshire, disease investigations confirmed the presence of SVC. Genotyping of the isolate showed that the virus was of European origin. The fishery comprises of a complex of six waters. A Confirmed Designation was placed on the fishery, and the fish were culled from the infected water which was then drained and disinfected. The fishery will be subject to statutory disease controls for a minimum of four years until the site can be demonstrated as free from infection. An epidemiological study into the source of infection was undertaken but proved inconclusive.
Koi Herpesvirus (KHV) disease continues to cause significant mortalities in carp fisheries in England. The total number of managed fisheries experiencing outbreaks of KHV disease in 2017 was 23. Whilst this represents a reduction in comparison with 33 outbreaks in 2016, it is significantly above the average figure of 14 outbreaks per year since the disease was made notifiable in 2007. Environmental conditions, notably ambient water temperatures appear to be the predisposing factor in the length and severity of KHV disease outbreaks in GB. Following an epidemiological study of KHV disease outbreaks since the disease was made notifiable, Defra reduced the length of time the restrictions placed on infected waters post disease outbreak from four years to 18 months. This change in the control programme reflects evidence that indicates that the risk of the transfer of infection is considered very low after overwintering followed by a summer period when water temperatures are such that clinical disease would occur should infection be present. Infected sites will be subject to disease surveillance whilst under confirmed designation, with the statutory controls removed after 18 months should there be no evidence for the continued presence of the disease.
The exploitation of wild caught wrasse for use as biological controls against sea lice infestations in the Scottish salmon farming sector has continued to cause concern to a number of stakeholder groups. Aquatic animal health legislation regards wild caught fish destined for use for farming purposes as aquaculture animals, and as such, once the fish are introduced into holding facilities they are subject to regulation. During the past year the FHI has authorised 15 wrasse holding facilities as aquaculture production businesses (APB’s) and continue to engage with the fishing sector to ensure that all of those involved are authorised. As such they will be required to comply with conditions of authorisation, including the keeping of movement and mortality records and will be subject to regular aquatic animal health inspections. In addition, transporters of fish are also required to be authorised and are subject to inspections for aquatic animal health and welfare purposes.
The FHI has been assisting in a Cefas study into the diseases affecting wild caught wrasse. The fish appear to be particularly susceptible to systemic bacterial infections caused by Vibrio spp. including Vibrio splendidus which seems to comprise a wide range of different strains. These infections are typical in fish that are experiencing stress and the FHI is working with those holding wrasse in order to reduce the levels of disease and improve the welfare of the fish through the use of refuges in the holding facilities and transport tanks. Inspections of holding facilities have indicated that mortality rates in wrasse are low.
The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) and Merlin Entertainments Ltd, the parent organisation that operates Sea Life Centres across the world have invested in research at Cefas on the detection of cyanide and its metabolites in fish. Large numbers of wild caught tropical marine fish are traded across the world for ornamental purposes, and many of these fish are harvested from environmentally sensitive areas such as coral reefs through the use of poisons such as cyanide which render the fish quiescent. The fish are then caught and placed into clean water to recover. However, such practices have long term detrimental effects upon sensitive habitats, and the fish caught by these means have poor survival rates. Members of the FHI provided independent coordination to studies conducted at Cefas to assess the most effective means to detect the use of cyanide and its metabolites in fish in order to facilitate the development of rapid tests and so inform choice in sourcing fish.
Data published on the use of antimicrobial medicines by the aquaculture sector has, in the past, been based upon the volumes sold rather than actual use on the farm. In 2018 the Fish Health Inspectorate will collect data during fish farm compliance visits on actual antimicrobial use by farms during 2016 and 2017, under new requirements of the European Union’s Data Collection Framework (see Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2016/1251). This will provide the first dataset on the actual volumes of antimicrobials used by the fish farming sector in the UK.
The FHI has been working with a number of government agencies investigating illegal activities in relation to trade in live European eels. The European eel is subject to strict legislative controls following a dramatic decline in population levels, both on a national and a European level. In February 2017 the FHI supported the UK Border Force CITES team (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in an interception of a large consignment of glass eels at Heathrow airport. The glass eels were thought to have been imported from Spain and were scheduled for re-export to Hong Kong for the aquaculture sector. It is illegal to export live European eels from the European Union. Following discussions with the Spanish authorities, agreement was reached to repatriate the glass eels for stock enhancement purposes. The investigation disrupted a serious organised crime network, demonstrating excellent inter-agency co-operation. UK Border Force will be seeking to prosecute the offender. The FHI is continuing to work with other regulatory agencies on alleged illegal harvesting and trade in elvers in the west of England, including the existence of unauthorised elver holding stations and illegal movements of elvers.
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. The FHI has provided support to several organisations involved in the regeneration of the native oyster around the coast of England. 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 2017.
Chronic mortalities in Pacific oysters Crassostrea gigas continue to affect shellfish farms in south-west England. The FHI and Cefas researchers have investigated several of these mortality events but have yet to establish the causative agent. Investigations by the FHI have shown the presence of Vibrio aestuarianus in some of the affected animals from the south-west shellfish farms. Certain strains of this bacteria are known to be immunosuppressive and further work is planned on affected sites during the summer to establish the role of this species in the shellfish mortality events.
Further evidence for the involvement of gram negative bacteria of the family Vibrionaceae as primary pathogens of shellfish is accumulating as unexplained mortality events in cultivated shellfish are investigated. The isolation and identification of pathogenic bacteria in shellfish is challenging due to the biological and environmental factors. The FHI has developed and will use a new method for investigating bacterial infections in shellfish through the sampling of haemolymph of moribund animals. This technique has greatly improved the potential to isolate Vibrio spp. From shellfish and so will contribute to the identification of cause of mortality in shellfish.
The Cefas Weymouth laboratory works to a formal quality management system under the international standard ISO 17025, and is regularly audited for compliance with the standard by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). In addition, as the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for molluscan diseases, the Cefas Weymouth Laboratory is required to participate in periodic inter-laboratory comparison tests (‘ring trials’’) organised by the European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL). The purpose of the ‘ring trial’ is to quality assure the diagnostic capabilities of NRL’s across the European Union (with other voluntary participants from across the world). The 2017 test was for the detection of the oyster parasites Marteilia refringens & Bonamia spp. by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Cefas has a very good record in achieving exemplary results in these ‘ring trials.
3. Advice, Representation and Better Regulation
Aquaculture Production Businesses in England and Wales have a high level of legislative compliance. In 2017 13 warning letters and 6 enforcement notices were issued mainly for failure to comply with conditions of a confirmed designation. In addition, 102 notices under the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011 were issued to authorised importers associated with trade anomalies, with an additional 14 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 2017 the team responded to 2914 telephone enquiries, 348 letters and 12,095 email enquiries. In addition, 364 movement document applications were processed, and 737 authorisation and registration applications completed. over 2016.
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 1653 customers were invited to respond to the survey with a 60% response rate. Of the responses receives 85% rated the FHI service as excellent and 13% as good. A small paper- based survey of 72 stakeholders was undertaken with a 36% response rate and a customer satisfaction score of 94%.
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 3,300 followers. In 2017 the total number of views on the FHI page is 74,816, the Facebook page has been engaged on other newsfeeds 24,612 times, and the FHI enforcement video has been viewed 101,649 times.
The FHI was awarded the Cabinet Office’s Customer Service Excellence (CSE) standard in 2015 and has subsequently been subject to annual audit against the quality standard by the independent consultants G4S. 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.
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, and the European Association of Fish Pathologists. In addition, the FHI attended a number of trade events to promote good biosecurity practice with stakeholders.
Members of the FHI have continued to support Defra policy leads in negotiations on the new ‘Animal Health Law’ Regulation (EU) 2016/429 including providing technical support at Commission working groups. The Regulation as published provides a high-level framework on animal health controls in the European Union. Further negotiations will take place on the delegated and implementing acts that provide the essential detail on animal health controls before the Regulations are applied in 2021.
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 2018
The FHI has identified the following as priority areas for 2018:
provide technical advice to Defra in negotiations on the European Union’s ‘Animal health law’ (Regulation (EU) 2016/429) to promote improvements in aquatic animal health within the European Union.
provide support to Defra on aquatic animal health issues in respect of the UK exit from the European Union.
initiate the collection and submission to the European Commission of antimicrobial medicines use by fish farms as required under the EU Data Collection Framework
promotion of the electronic live fish movements web service across the aquaculture sector in England and Wales.