The aquaculture sector has seen tremendous growth in the last 50 years and is an essential source of protein, micronutrients as well as income for billions of people worldwide. But its unique features make this sector especially prone to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens. In Asia, the world’s most important aquaculture-producing region, research teams are making important strides to mitigate the emergence of antimicrobial resistance through the development of cutting-edge alternatives to antimicrobials for use in aquaculture systems.
Drivers of antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture systems
The rapid growth in the aquaculture sector, in both output and the number of species produced for commercial purposes, has led to intensification and a higher density of animals in production systems. These crowded conditions create physiological stress for the animals and impair their immune function, which, combined with poor water quality, favours the emergence of disease.
Meanwhile, prevention measures and treatments have not kept up with the sector’s rapid growth.
The diversity of species produced around the world and the lack of diagnostic tools make it challenging for producers to select and administer appropriate treatment. Additionally, no antimicrobials have been developed specifically for aquaculture, which means that those developed for humans and livestock are used instead and end up in water systems.
The way forward
Aquaculture systems vary enormously depending on region, type of species produced and scale. Solutions to promote animal health and reduce the need for antimicrobials must therefore be developed in close collaboration with producers and in the context in which they will be used. This is especially important in 2022, which was declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. This initiative recognizes the contributions of small-scale artisanal fishers, fish farmers and fish workers to well-being, food systems and poverty alleviation through the responsible and sustainable use of fisheries and aquaculture resources.
Three Innovative Veterinary Solutions for Antimicrobial Resistance (InnoVet-AMR) projects, with research teams working in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam, are focussing on developing solutions specifically for small- to medium-scale aquaculture producers. These three projects, featured in the Asia Research News Magazine issue on antimicrobial resistance, are supported by IDRC and the United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Care’s Global AMR Innovation Fund initiative.
Solutions such as nanobubbles and quorum quenchers provide alternatives to antimicrobials in farmed fish and shrimp-production systems, which do not create chemical residue in water systems and promote better animal health. And vaccines to protect fish against common bacterial pathogens have the potential to significantly reduce the need to use antibiotics in affected aquaculture sub-sectors, such as in catfish production in Vietnam.
To learn more about antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture and the potential of antimicrobial alternatives, listen to episode 4 of Innovating Alternatives, an IDRC original podcast, and read the full issue in Asia Research News!