Managing transfers and fish health at British Columbia salmon farms

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By Milthon Lujan

Canada.- Fish health on British Columbia salmon farms is managed throughout the production cycle to maintain healthy fish populations and to identify and address disease occurrences as soon as they arise. Aquaculture licence conditions set out mandatory monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure any impacts are appropriately mitigated at salmon farms.

A central component of on-farm fish health management is a Fish Health Management Plan (FHMP). FHMPs are approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and describe the fish health principles that the licensee must follow to maintain fish health and biosecurity at the farm.

Licence holders must routinely submit a variety of fish health data to DFO. Routine reports include information on mortality rates, including the suspected cause of mortality. Additional reports are submitted if there are elevated mortalities or a fish health event that requires the involvement of a veterinarian.

Both DFO and aquaculture companies have veterinarians on staff (or available on contract, for some companies) to monitor fish health on farms. Company veterinarians ensure appropriate husbandry in day-to-day operations and identify appropriate management measures if fish health concerns arise.

Through the Fish Health Audit and Surveillance program, DFO oversees the health of cultured salmon to minimize fish health and disease risks to wild and farmed fish and publishes reports on regulation and monitoring of BC’s marine finfish aquaculture facilities. Sites are routinely inspected to ensure compliance with FHMPs, to verify the accuracy of industry reporting, and to collect samples for routine diagnostic disease screening.

All salmon aquaculture transfers require authorization under section 56 of the Fishery (General) Regulations. Movements of fish to and from farms may be required to introduce new stock, facilitate growth at different life stages or optimize production. DFO reviews these applications to determine whether the movement may adversely affect local aquatic species and habitats. DFO veterinarians and biologists assess the information gathered by DFO and submitted by industry to gain a complete picture of the health status of the fish to be moved. For hatchery to marine transfers, this assessment also includes an in-depth records review and on-site inspection of the fish.

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If this assessment indicates that a pathogen or disease is affecting the fish to be transferred, DFO may place restrictions on the movement and/or prescribe additional conditions to mitigate any risk of disease transmission, such as grading to remove undersized fish, the use of pre-transfer medications, or additional post-transfer health testing. If no mitigation measure can be identified, the application will be denied.

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