FAO's Assistance for the

Responsible Movement of

Live Aquatic Animals

in Asia

Rohana Subasinghe1, J. R. Arthur2, D. Kumar3, M. J. Phillips3

and E-M. Bernoth4

1 Fishery Resources Division, FAO, Rome.

2 RR #1, Box 13, Savarie Road, Sparwood, B.C., Canada V0B 2G0

3 Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand

4'Office of the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer,

Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Australia



Spread of Aquatic Animal Pathogens in Asia

Aquaculture is the fastest developing food producing sector in the world, and Asia presently contributes more than 90% to the global production. However, disease outbreaks are a significant constraint to aquaculture production and trade and are affecting both the economic development and socio-economic return in many countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. The movement of live aquatic animals and the accompanying transfer of infectious microorganisms - some of them possible pathogens - is one of the major causes of recent disease outbreaks.

Efforts to develop a strategy against the international spread of aquatic animal pathogens in the Asia-Pacific Region have been underway for more than 20 years, under support from various donor agencies and regional and international organizations. Recent events on the international scene have caused increased interest among governments and intensified regional efforts to develop methods to prevent international disease transfers. Among these events are the World Trade Organization's "Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,"

(SPS Agreement), which came into effect in January 1995 and establishes rules for human, animal and plant health measures affecting international trade, and several severe disease outbreaks which have occurred across much of the Region.

Quarantine and health certification strategies for aquatic animals in the Asia-Pacific Region have been difficult to develop due to many reasons. These include the huge volume of trade in cultured and ornamental species and the wide diversity of species and commodities traded; the widely differing attitudes and approaches, and importance placed on trade by individual countries, and the varying need to protect existing aquaculture and native faunas. There is also a general lack of knowledge about the value of aquaculture production vs. that for other commodities, the losses in production due to disease, the precise causes of these losses, and the origins of the pathogens which are deemed responsible. In many countries of the Region, there exist technical problems due to a lack of trained manpower, infrastructure, operating funds, and other related constraints. Together, these have made it difficult to see clear approaches and solutions, and have


led to inertia. Whereas some countries did initiate some action, there has been no overall framework, or regional guidance.

FAO has been active in addressing the issue of international transfers of aquatic animal pathogens. The first step was the FAO/NACA/AAHRI/ACIAR Regional Workshop on Health and Quarantine Guidelines for the Responsible Movement (Introduction and Transfer) of Aquatic Organisms, which was held in 1996 in Bangkok (see FAN, No. 12, April 1996). This workshop led to the elaboration of a Strategy for the Development and Implementation of Health Certification and Quarantine Guidelines for the Responsible Movement of Aquatic Animals in the Asia-Pacific Region. Subsequent to the development of this strategy, and upon request by NACA, FAO approved a regional Technical Co-operation Project (TCP) in December 1997 (TCP/RAS/6714(A)) with the immediate objective of developing national and Asia regional technical guidelines on aquatic animal quarantine and health certification for the responsible movement of live aquatic animals. This project aims to develop national technical guidelines on quarantine and health certification of live aquatic animals for 20 countries, and formally agreed-upon and standardized technical guidelines on quarantine and health certification for live aquatic animals for the Asia-Pacific Region. The capacity of national aquatic animal quarantine and health certification authorities to exchange information on aquatic animal pathogens and recent disease outbreaks, undertake standardized diagnostic procedures, and improve disease control and disease prevention, will be strengthened through establishing relevant databases and training activities.

The project will collaborate closely with the World Organization for Animal Health (Office International des Epizooties - OIE), with the specific objective of establishing a

reliable fish disease reporting system for OIE. A number of other agencies and organizations are involved in this Regional TCP Project. They are: UK Department for International Development (DFID), through the assistance to the Aquatic Animal Health Research Institute (AAHRI) and the South East Asia Aquatic Disease Control Project (SEAADCP) in Thailand; Government of Japan (Fishery Agency); Government of Australia, through the Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE) and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR); and the Fish Health Section of the Asian Fisheries Society (FHS/AFS).

Towards Developing Asia Regional Technical Guidelines on Quarantine and Health Certification of Aquatic Animals

The proposed Asia Regional Technical Guidelines on Quarantine and Health Certification of Aquatic Animals, which are to be developed by the Regional TCP, will cover only live fishes, molluscs and crustaceans, both wild and those originating from aquaculture. Dead animals and their products will be excluded for the time being because of the greater difficulties and complexities presented by their trade. It is important to include wild populations, because these can be a source of serious pathogens affecting cultured stocks, e.g., there is strong indication that wild shrimp broodstock can be a source of white spot virus. Conversely, the trade in aquatic animals for aquaculture can inadvertently lead to the introduction of exotic pathogens that can seriously impact wild fish and shellfish populations.

There are significant differences in the status of aquatic animal quarantine and health certification in various countries of the Region. Some countries have developed systems for import quarantine and the necessary legislation to enforce them, whereas

others have virtually no mechanisms in place to inspect, even visually, imported or exported live fish. Most countries fall in between, with visual inspection of live imports for signs of disease, but no quarantine sensu stricto. Similarly, some countries require detailed health certification from the exporting country whereas others do not, or issue their own health certificates after release of the animals from their quarantine station or after visual inspection.

"Health certification" for some countries means "clinically healthy" at the time of inspection, whereas for others it means the absence of specified disease agents in the consignment, but not necessarily in the source of the consignment (farm of origin, etc.). The majority of countries will issue export certificates according to the importing country's requirements. Some countries do not allow export without a certificate, regardless of whether or not the importing country poses this requirement. Despite the large discrepancies that currently exist between countries in policy, in operation of aquatic animal quarantine and health certification, and in the conceptual framework of quarantine in the wider sense (pre-border, border and post-border continuum), all countries have an acute sense of awareness of these issues, and the genuine wish to improve the situation.

The compilation of inventories and checklists of pathogens and parasites for the various countries of the Asia-Pacific Region is an essential preliminary step towards determining what species are present and determining their distributions. These data are necessary for evaluating risks associated with pathogen movement and for possible inclusion of pathogens on lists drawn up for notification and reporting purposes. The develop-ment of such information therefore is an essential part of the process of developing guidelines for national and regional quarantine and health certification.


Despite the existence of a considerable literature on aquatic animal diseases, the descriptions and distributions of the pathogens and parasites of aquatic animals in the Asia-Pacific Region are poorly documented. In the Philippines, for example, parasites have been recorded for less than 5% of the indigenous fish species, indicating that many new taxa remain to be described and that new host and distribution records will be common. Extensive disease or parasite surveys have been accomplished for only a few species, primarily those widely cultured in Asia. What information is available is widely scattered in the scientific literature. Few comprehensive checklists or monographs have been published. The bibliographies of the aquatic animal health literature published by the Asian Fisheries Society, Fish Health Section, provide a starting point for compiling lists of pathogens. An additional problem to be overcome is the existence of many inadequately described species, resulting in taxonomic confusion. There is a general lack of taxonomic expertise, both within Asia and, increasingly, world wide. Little work has been done on the viruses, due to the novelty of this field and the sophisticated equipment needed for culture and characterization. The bacteria of aquatic animals are better known, but work needs to be done to characterize strains and their distributions. For parasites, viruses and bacteria likewise there are few data proving - or excluding - their true `pathogenic', i.e. disease causing, nature. It will inherently be difficult to decide between harmless commensals, opportunistic patho-gens and true obligate disease agents. Clearly, any quarantine measures will have to consider this aspect as one of the many facets of risk analyses (see below).

There is a strong need for countries that have linked aquatic systems, either through shared land borders or river systems to co-operate in the

The following countries participated in the first training workshop: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, R.O. Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

development and implementation of common reporting and certification methods. The issues raised by shared marine boundaries also need to be considered within the context of contingency planning and zoning.

Countries have a moral obligation to report outbreaks of listed diseases or significant unexplained mortality to other nations at risk, whether they be neighbours or importers of the live aquatic animal(s) affected. Reporting of new disease problems or sudden, unexplained mortality, or unusual pattern of mortality, is a major component of any health certification and quarantine process. Risk analysis procedures are essential in the process of developing regional guidelines. A simple risk analysis procedure would consist of four components: i) hazard identification, ii) risk assessment, iii) risk management and iv) risk communication. Hazard identification

involves identifying the risks associated with the importation of a particular species, for example, introduction of certain viruses. Risk assessment covers the assessment of the risks involved, i.e. judging on a scientific basis whether the risks are high, moderate or negligible, bearing in mind that there will never be `no risk' and that any quantitation of the risk will be very difficult. Information and database systems such as FAO's Aquatic Animal Pathogen and Quarantine Information System (AAPQIS) are important tools in both hazard identification and risk assessment. Risk management involves contingency planning and establishing procedures to identify the quarantine, health certification, control and eradication measures to be taken where necessary. Risk communication covers the communication of that risk to all responsible persons and agencies involved and to any others identified during the process as likely to be affected by the risk. The Asian Chapter of the FAO's AAPQIS, AAPQIS-Asia, which is currently being developed by FAO and NACA, will attempt to include, as far as possible, authentic records of pathogens and incidence of occurrence in the participating countries.

FAO/NACA/OIE Asia Regional Programme Activities

First Training Workshop

The First Training Workshop of the FAO/NACA/OIE Asia Regional Programme for the Development of Technical Guidelines on Quarantine and Health Certification, and Establishment of Information Systems for the Responsible Movement of Live Aquatic Animals in Asia was held at the NACA Headquarters, Bangkok, Thailand, from 16th-20th January, 1998. This workshop was the first activity of the FAO/NACA Regional TCP "Assistance for Responsible Movement of Live Aquatic Animals"


(TCP/RAS/6714(A)). The workshop was attended by National Co-ordinators (NCs) from 20 participating governments from the Asian region, members of the Regional Working Group and Technical Support Services (RWG/TSS) and observers from three concerned organizations.

A number of important issues related to achieving the project's objectives were discussed. They include the need for adequate regional and national data and information to permit the development of quarantine and health certification systems; the need to conduct pathogen transfer risk assessments and to improve and further develop pathogen reporting systems; needs related to regional and national infrastructure and development, capacity building, and training; institutional involvement and the need for regional harmonization.

Other matters highlighted by the workshop include:

• The importance of identifying areas that are free of shrimp white spot disease.

• The regional TCP should draft guidelines on the legal aspects of quarantine and health certification, which could then incorporated, over time, into national legislation, according to specific national requirements and circumstances.

• The strong desire to see regional co-operation on quarantine and health certification, and to move towards harmonization of approaches.

• The wide variation between countries in terms of existing capacity for diagnosis and disease reporting and legislation.

• The importance of effective and standardized diagnostic procedures for key diseases.

• The participation of the aquaculture "industry" in the process of developing certification and quarantine guidelines.

• Australia and many other countries in the Asia-Pacific Region are free of many of the important diseases found in other countries. These diseases, although not all listed by OIE, merit careful attention on the part of importing countries.

• Better knowledge of the epizootiology of aquatic animal diseases, especially those of "new" aquaculture species, is needed to facilitate the development of national and regional aquatic animal health programmes.

• Several countries in the region (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) emphasized the need for assistance to initiate action towards developing national quarantine and health certification programmes, including the drafting or revision of appropriate legislation.

• Several countries recognized a need to develop linkages among national agencies, and to enhance regional collaboration, networking and information transfer.

• The need to establish regular disease surveillance programmes and mechanisms for data collection and disease reporting was recognized by many countries. In some cases, where little knowledge exists, national pathogen surveys may be required.

• The need to further develop capacity and infrastructure for aquatic animal research, quarantine and health certification, and health management was mentioned by almost all countries. These include the need to:

establish national lead centres to act as central repositories for disease information,

develop national master plans/strategies,

provide for technical training and human resource development,

develop extension services and supporting materials,

obtain donor funding for initial capacity building, and adequate annual budgets from national governments for continued operation,

establish and/or up-grade aquatic animal disease institutes and laboratories, and

improve diagnostic capabilities, including establishing detection methods and developing diagnostic kits using new technology.

Aquatic Animal Disease Reporting System for Asia

It was clearly revealed during the FAO/NACA/OIE first training workshop held in Bangkok that the reporting requirements to OIE on aquatic animal diseases (currently five finfish diseases and five diseases of molluscs) were not met by all countries in the Asia Region. Thus, it was impossible for OIE to disseminate information on aquatic animal health status in the region. OIE hoped that in the very near future, a reporting system called Quarterly Aquatic Animal Disease Report (by FAO/OIE/NACA) could be initiated and formalized.

A tentative list of reportable diseases for Asia, including OIE notifiable diseases and other significant diseases, has been developed by the Regional Working Group established for the implementation of the Regional Strategy. This list could serve as the basis for the quarterly reports, and can subsequently be modified as experience in aquatic animal disease reporting improves. The frequency of reporting will be once every three months. A reporting form has been developed by OIE, NACA, and FAO and will be sent to the NACA National Co-ordinators (NCs) or Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs), in July 1998. The first quarterly reports will be submitted by countries in October 1998 OIE/NACA/FAO will prepare a quarterly report based on the returns, which will to be circulated to all participating countries in November 1998.