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Disease management in aquaculture: crystal ball policy making

Shane Roberts*, Marty Deveney, Peter Lauer, Mehdi Doroudi

PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture
GPO Box 1625
Adelaide, South Australia, 5001

Preparedness and prevention are two fundamental aspects of disease management that aim to identify and minimise risks of disease outbreaks in aquaculture. This requires risk-based decision making, which has previously been described as a “shot-gun marriage between science and the law”. To reduce uncertainty and increase responsiveness, foreseen (known) as well as possible (known unknowns) biosecurity risks need to be incorporated into legislation and policy as the basis for disease management and mitigation. However, an element of flexibility needs to be incorporated to allow for unforeseen (unknown unknowns) risks that require case-by-case assessment.

From a biosecurity perspective, disease management in South Australian aquaculture includes a list of notifiable aquatic animal diseases, mandatory reporting of high mortalities and suspected disease by licence holders, surveillance and translocation policies. Legal powers for the prevention, reporting and management of disease outbreaks in South Australia exist under the Aquaculture Act 2001, Livestock Act 1997, and Fisheries Management Act 2007.
Regular review of these policies is required to maintain relevance in the face of increased scientific knowledge, industry change and economic drivers. Two key pieces of legislation are currently being reviewed; the Aquaculture Regulations 2005 (includes reporting of high mortalities and disease), and the Livestock Notice 2008 (includes restrictions on translocations). These legislative reviews provide PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture, other relevant government agencies and industry sectors with an opportune time to review the current requirements in place to determine their ongoing effectiveness.

Surveillance systems are comprised of both passive and active surveillance, and provide the forewarning of disease outbreaks and the evidence to determine presence or absence of disease. In South Australia, a passive surveillance system currently includes the review of laboratory results and veterinarian reports submitted through general farm disease management practices. Active disease surveillance is often responsive to disease threats and provides the necessary information that underpins translocation policies and decisions. Demonstration of freedom of disease through more regular active surveillance programs is becoming increasingly important for export and trade requirements. However, the primary beneficiaries and costs associated with surveillance are often debated which can impede implementation.