Turning the tide in aquatic animal diseases with better surveillance

Life underwater is sensitive to the changes the world is going through. Just as with terrestrial animals, the emergence of new diseases is placing significant stress on aquatic animal populations and the ecosystems they live in. This phenomenon is not likely to stop anytime soon, driven by factors such as climate change and unregulated trade.  

Diseases can have severe consequences on the sustainable development of aquatic animal systems and on food security. Moreover, they can result in fewer aquatic animal products going to market, with more than a third of them being traded internationally. In a world where 50 million people depend on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods, controlling aquatic animal diseases continues to be critical.   

With this goal in mind, the World Organisation for Animal Health launched its global Aquatic Animal Health Strategy in 2021. As part of the roll-out plan of this strategy, the Organisation provides national Aquatic Animal Health Services with recommendations to enhance the surveillance of aquatic animal diseases. Surveillance aims to identify and manage risks associated with aquatic animal diseases, which can have an impact on the production and trade of aquatic animal products. It is a key preliminary step to ensure early detection and response to the occurrence of aquatic animal disease and for the country to progressively gain the capacity to claim freedom from a disease.  Such achievement can support countries to meet trade requirements and facilitate the safe exchange of aquatic animals and their products.

The World Organisation for Animal Health encourages its Members to implement the surveillance recommendations provided in the Aquatic Code and Manual, to report any relevant disease events in a transparent and timely fashion, and to publish self-declarations of disease freedom.  At the 89th General Session of the Organisation, the World Assembly of Delegates adopted a revised version of the Standard on aquatic animal disease surveillance, with the aim of guiding Members through the process of self-declaring freedom from an aquatic animal disease using solid evidence.

Aquaculture is recognised as the fastest-growing food production sector worldwide, with nearly 50% of the global supply of aquatic animals and products derived from it. This means that aquatic animal production increasingly contributes to human nutrition, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. A global authority working across borders to improve animal health, the World Organisation for Animal Health urges countries to implement its International Standards. As the world population and food demand continue to grow, building better surveillance will contribute to ensure improved aquatic animal health worldwide and to protect the health of life underwater.