FAO/GFCM Workshop on animal health and risk analysis in finfish aquaculture

The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) established within the FAO with main objective to ensure the conservation and the sustainable use, at the biological, social, economic and environmental level, of living marine resources and the sustainable development of aquaculture in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea, organized a workshop on animal health and risk analysis in finfish aquaculture.

The workshop was held in Larnaca, Cyprus, on 3-4 October 2018 and gathered experts from more than 20 countries. The main objectives were, among others, to assess the current situation regarding early diagnostics in fish farms, regulation, capacity in diagnostics, control and prevention of diseases, epidemiological knowledge, governance and challenges for aquatic animal health.

The workshop falls under the framework of the GFCM Aquaculture Strategy Target 2: “Enhance interaction between aquaculture and the environment while ensuring animal health and welfare”.  In particular one of the output of this task address the “Responsible aquatic animal health and welfare management” that aims at harmonizing actions to tackle challenges related to aquatic animal health and welfare following an approach tailored to the specificities of aquaculture in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

Based on a template distributed to the experts at the beginning of September 2018 entitled “Aquaculture and aquatic diseases surveillance”, 13 presentations covering Mediterranean and Black Sea bordering countries provided an insight of the current status of aquatic animal health and management in finfish aquaculture. Overall, in the region the situation appeared not homogeneous in terms of control, surveillance and expertise available on surveillance programmes.

According to presentations, in areas where EU legislation apply (e.g. Council Directive 2006/88/EC) surveillance programmes for detection and control of diseases appeared to be in place, diagnostic capacities were in line with EU requirements, almost all diagnostic procedures were accredited according to ISO EN 17025, whilst no programmes for control of diseases in marine farmed fish were mentioned. In addition, it appeared that diagnostic capacities were well developed, vaccination was largely the common prevention method of bacterial diseases, and one country had the objective to reduce antimicrobial use by 25% in the next three years. It was also noted that most of large marine aquaculture farms were following the rules set up by GLOBAL GAP and they were obliged to adopt a contingency plans with described procedures in case of abnormal mortalities. The main constraint were human resources limits, insufficient education of fish health experts (there is no certification for this expertise), lack of registered medicine for treatment of fish, mainly antiparasitic drugs, insufficient control of ornamental fish health status as it is know that they are one of the most traded commodities. It also appeared a quite developed movement of eggs and fry being exported/imported that raised concern about their health status.

On the other hand, other areas in the Mediterranean and Black Sea seemed to have a different level of control, surveillance, scopes and capacities in aquatic diseases control and surveillance that overall could be enhanced. In some areas at the moment there were no information about national lists of the most important pathogens and the control was driven by needs of industry. In some countries it appeared that diagnostics capacities were mostly connected to universities, veterinary schools and it was favourably observed an increasing number of teaching of aquatic animal diseases within veterinary schools. In some places surveillance and diagnostics of diseases were mainly performed by university teachers and based on the research projects while it was observed the lack of diagnostic capacities for fish viral diseases.

The workshop recognized that challenges related to aquatic animal health and welfare in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea aquaculture should be regional in scope, as any impact at the local level would bear consequences at all levels from local to regional due to the physically continuous nature of the marine environment. Based on the discussions, many participants stressed the need to carry out ad hoc regional trainings and share experience to enhance the capacity to address these transboundary issues.


Particular attention during the workshop was given to the basic knowledge about risk analysis in aquaculture, risk analysis methodologies and challenges, national actions on biosecurity and national strategies on aquatic animal health through the presentation delivered by the FAO aquaculture officer Dr. Melba Bondad-Reantaso. In this regard, participants acknowledged the opportunity to build a regional core group working on risk assessment analysis once that capacity building and training programmes addressing national experts would have been carried out on this issue.

In addition, during the workshop three H2020 projects were presented, namely VIVALDI (Preventing and Mitigating Farmed Bivalve Diseases) and MedAID (Mediterranean Aquaculture Integrated Development) that were introduced by Dolors Furones, IRTA, Spain, and PerformFISH (Integrating Innovative Approaches for Competitive and Sustainable Performance across the Mediterranean Aquaculture Value Chain) that was presented by Andrea Gustinelli, University of Bologna, Italy.

Moreover, several particular activities pertaining the scope of the workshop like the results obtained within MedAID’s Work package 1. Holistic sustainability assessment of Mediterranean aquaculture: zootechnical, environmental, economic, social and governance; Task 1.4. Mapping knowledge on the prevalence of diseases and their impact on production were demonstrated by Dolors Furones, scientific coordinator of the project. Saraya Tavornapanich, task leader of the WP 4. Health management and diseases and welfare, Task 4.1. Assess the risk of relevant pathogens and emerging diseases in the Mediterranean basin, explained the methodology that will be applied for the “Development of a generic model for assessing the risk of introduction and spread of viral diseases within marine farms in the Mediterranean basin” while Snježana Zrnčić presented the activities of the WP 4. Task 4.2. Strengthening diagnostics capacities by harmonizing competences, and invited all participant of the meeting to actively involve in the evaluation of the diagnostic competences and defining the needs within the region and into work of the Health online forum.


All participants, regardless the governmental involvement in aquatic health management and diagnostic and research capacities, considered that in their country there should be a step forward to prevention in aquaculture which would be possible to develop by fulfilling the outcomes of the projects but also by adopting a new approach. In this sense, Dr Bondad-Reantaso introduced a new concept to address aquatic disease problems – Aquaculture Biosecurity Progressive Management Pathway (PMP). The PMP is a step-wise risk management framework that should introduce the building blocks for biosecurity capacity that are relevant to national needs at every stage.

In conclusion, the GFCM workshop could be considered an excellent opportunity of cooperation and enhancement of the regional network whereby different experts and projects (e.g. MedAID and PerformFISH) shared information and knowledge. It was also an occasion to start taking stock of progress in the field of finfish pathology, disease surveillance and current regional capacity on control and prevention. While some priorities and needs were identified, a more comprehensive mapping will have to be undertaken.

The work just commenced will continue jointly among the GFCM, regional experts and projects in order to gather more detailed information through all the available cooperative platforms with a view of strengthening the regional capacity to address transboundary issues and challenges related to aquatic animal health and welfare management.



Snježana ZRNČIĆ, Senior Researcher
Croatian Veterinary Institute, Laboratory of fish, molluscs and crustacean diseases, Zagreb, Croatia.

WP 4 – Health management and diseases and fish welfare


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