Introducing AAPQIS:

the FAO's Aquatic Animal Pathogen

and Quarantine Information System


Rohana Subasinghe1
J. Richard Arthur2
1Fishery Resources Division
2Department of Fisheries and Oceans,
Maurice Lamontagne Institute,
Mont-Joli, Quebec, Canada



In an era where the growth of aquaculture is above 10% per year and the losses due to diseases amount to billions of dollars world-wide, measures to combat diseases of fish and shellfish are assuming high priority in most regions of the world. In Asia-Pacific, for example, a series of major disease epizootics have swept through much of the region during the past decade (e.g., Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome in freshwater fish, and several viral diseases of penaeid shrimps). Taura Syndrome devastated penaeid shrimp farming in Latin America, whilst a number of bacterial pathogens have resulted in considerable damage to the salmon industry globally. These disease outbreaks have resulted in huge economic losses to aquaculture and the total collapse of some industries,


and have affected both production and marketing of artisanal fisheries. These problems have led to a heightened interest in methods to prevent the introduction and spread of exotic aquatic pathogens through the development and imple-mentation of programmes of quarantine and certification. Such a programme is already in place in Australia, and a number of other countries in Asia-Pacific and Latin America have either initiated programme or are seriously considering doing so (e.g., Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, China, Philippines, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Mexico). Additionally, recent developments in international trade have made the disease status of exporting and importing countries much more important from an economic standpoint. The absence of a given disease in an importing country may form the basis for blocking shipments of live aquatic animals and their products from countries where the disease is documented to occur. However, in order to support such a barrier, the importing country must be able to demonstrate in a convincing fashion, through past history and current monitoring programmes, that the country is indeed free of the pathogen in question.

Fan1.gif (55226 byte)

Fish health training programme at an Asian university


To address these problems effectively, quarantine workers and government policy makers must have access to accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date information on the known and potential pathogens occurring in their own countries (identities, hosts, distributions, patho-genicities, life cycles, zoonotic importance, etc.), as well as comparable information on the disease situation in the species of aquatic animal which is to be imported. This information is essential so that scientifically based risk assessments of the dangers posed to existing aquaculture and to wild fish and shellfish can be made. Such decisions must be timely, and they must be reached using standardised, rational and defensible decision-making procedures.

The need for such information has long been recognised in the Asia-Pacific region, and is reiterated in the reports of numerous workshops held by various donors and regional agencies such as FAO, International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC), Asian Fish Health Section of the Asian Fisheries Society (FHS/AFS), Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Aquatic Animal Health Research Institute of Thailand (AAHRI), and the Department of International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID), dating back to at least 1978.

Over the past two years, FAO has been highly active in this area, through its efforts to implement the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and is currently collaborating with NACA in the development of a comprehensive

Fan2.gif (53762 byte)

Epizootic ulcerative syndrome `EUS' in freshwater fish


regional strategy on practical guidelines for the quarantine and certification of aquatic animals in the Asia-Pacific. These efforts have been developed though two recent regional workshops, an FAO "Expert Consultation on Diseases in Asian Aquaculture," which was held in Serdang, Malaysia in May 1995, and a "Workshop on Health and Quarantine Guidelines for Responsible Movement (Intro-duction and Transfer) of Aquatic Organisms", jointly organized by FAO, NACA and AAHRI, and held in Bangkok in January, 1996. During these workshops, one of the goals identified to be part of the FAO/NACA/ACIAR strategy (developed in collaboration with a number of other agencies such as AAHRI, DFID, FHS/AFS, and Office International des Epizooties (OIE)) is the development of a comprehensive information database on aquatic animal health, with the FAO charged to take the initiative in developing and establishing a prototype computerized information system. AAPQIS (Aquatic Animal Pathogen and Quarantine Information System) is the result of accomplishing this goal.


As a starting point, a prototype has been developed for the Asian region, where a comprehensive information database is most readily assembled, due to the information gathering activities of the FHS/AFS. For some key pathogens, global information has also been entered. Once the Asian component of AAPQIS (AAPQIS-Asia) is established (a joint FAO/NACA project), the system will be expanded, with minor modifications, to include similar networks in other regions of the world, such as Latin America, Africa, and the Mediterranean, through new partnerships and collaborations, and will be designed for eventual expansion to become a world-wide information network on diseases of aquatic animals. The AAPQIS will also be linked with other aquaculture databases of FAO which are being pursued through networking at the regional level, such as the GFCM Mediterranean aquaculture networks and supporting information system (SIPAM). It is also envisaged that AAPQIS regional databases will eventually be harmonised with those of the OIE. Certain features of AAPQIS will also be included in the upcoming FAO Atlas of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries which will also be available via the Internet.


Fan3.gif (60941 byte)

External fouling on black tiger shrimp


Among the capabilities anticipated to be included in AAPQIS are:

Pathogens/parasites: the system will permit users to easily find information on pathogens and parasites reported from any region or country. A variety of types of information can be included: taxonomic and systematic information, hosts, geographical distributions, pathogenicities, OIE disease status, economic and zoonotic importance, biology, difficulty of identification, list of taxonomic experts capable of confirming identification, possible treatments, line drawings, photomicrographs, etc. The system will permit the construction of dynamic distribution maps, allowing users to see the currently known distribution of any pathogen, initially on a regional scale, and eventually at the national and global scales.

Hosts: Users will be able to obtain current information on the pathogens and parasites reported from any fish, crustacean, mollusc or other commercially important inver-tebrate, at the national and regional levels, and eventually, on a global basis. It is envisioned that the system will draw on the species database of FishBase (ICLARM/EC/FAO), permitting users to readily obtain current information on host taxonomy, common names, distributions, introductions, etc.

Country check: Users will be able to obtain a list of pathogens and parasites known for an imported host from a particular country. They will also be able to automatically compare this list with the list of pathogens/parasites known from the same host from their own country, allowing them to quickly determine if there are pathogens likely to be of concern in a given lot or shipment of animals.

Aquatic Animal Pathogen and Quarantine Information System (AAPQIS)

The AAPQIS will provide a mechanism for the comprehensive tracking and reporting of diseases and parasites on a regional basis. It can also be adapted for use by national governments for establishing national systems for disease reporting and tracking.

The information system will be delivered via an Internet/world-wide web (WWW) server(s); an initial server to be operated by NACA, a regional lead centre in Asia. Similar systems are currently being developed at FAO (the Pacific Plant Pathogen Information System (PPPIS: and the South Pacific Commission Animal Health and Quarantine Information System (SPC/AHQIS)). The software framework developed to support these highly similar systems has been adapted to the specific information needs of fish health quarantine officers, diagnosticians, researchers and government policy makers to develop AAPQIS.

The "information highway" is expanding rapidly, and most lead centres in Asia and elsewhere in the world will soon have Internet connections. Use of the Internet offers many advantages, among them the ability for network users to share data and efforts. By contributing a relatively small amount of funds or effort to development of the AAPQIS, government departments and individuals will have access to the totality of information assembled by all network members. Use of the Internet also provides a mechanism through which the AAPQIS will have a life of its own. No single organization or person will have ownership; and the system will not be dependent on long term support from a single donor to keep it functioning. As long as the network members see the system as useful, it will continue to function. In the short term, those users who do not have Internet access can be provided with AAPQIS in CD ROM format. In this manner, local area networks can be established.


Country lists: It will be possible to generate a current listing of all parasites/pathogens listed by host for any country.

References: A literature database, including all references used to construct the pathogen/parasite database will be maintained. For the Asia-Pacific Region, this database will include the fish health literature which is being compiled by the Fish Health Section of the Asian Fisheries Society.

Other components: These will be added based on the needs of the user community. They could include information on the status of Quarantine Legislation in each country, lists of Institutions and Researchers working on fish health, accessible by country or region, with direct Internet connection to them; Fora for discussion of specific problems, Newsletters (e.g., newsletters of the Asian Fisheries Society, Fish Health Section; the American Fisheries Society, Fish Health Section; Aquatic Animal Health Research Institute; International Ichthyoparasitology Newsletter; etc.); etc.

The structure of the database is being developed by FAO through collaboration with country focal points who are fish health researchers and/or the responsible quarantine officers from the various countries. Once the structure has been finalized, country focal points and other interested parties, both within and outside a region, will be able to contribute to developing and maintaining the database. A series of checks, using experts who will "adopt" a given species or taxonomic grouping, along with referees (recognised world experts), will assure the accuracy of information entered into the database. Interested users, both within and outside a region, will be able to comment on,

criticize, contribute to and correct information contained in the database by referring comments and information to the moderators for their consideration.

Initial database security will be achieved by having a single "data master" who will have sole control over the final entry of changes to the master data base. The "data master", who will be an internationally recognized fish health expert, will initially be based at FAO in Rome. Once the system is fully functional, it will be possible to transfer the "data master" responsibility, and perhaps the server itself, to the regional lead centres, such as NACA for Asia-Pacific.

Expected network members and users:

  • National fisheries and veterinary departments charged with implementing programmes for quarantine and certification for aquatic animals.

  • National policy makers charged with assessing individual country's needs with regards to quarantine and certification programmes for aquatic animals.

• International and regional agencies involved with either research or policy formulation on aquaculture and fish health.

• Fish health workers, diagnos-ticians and scientists, both within governments and universities, and in private sector aquaculture.

Future activities for asia-pacific:

Initial demonstration to potential contributors/users within the Asia-Pacific Region is being planned for January 1998 through a training workshop, to be held in Bangkok under a FAO regional technical co-operation project to be implemented by NACA. Following the workshop, existing software will be modified to accommodate specific country requirements and initial country-specific data entry will then take place. In order to facilitate accurate and smooth data gathering and the data entry process, key national institutions in Asia-Pacific with capability to act as national servers need to be equipped. It is expected that funds for purchasing computers, costs of Internet connection, CD preparation and distribution, and maintenance will be obtained from various sources.


Fan4.gif (50244 byte)

Snakehead fish with typical `EUS' infection