Aquatic animal health management: a guide for research centres


Beyond laws and regulations, aquatic research centres know the vital role aquatic animal health plays in the success of their scientific programs. Managing aquatic animal health requires meticulous data processing within a robust plan regarding nutrition, water quality, biosecurity and quarantine.

Compliance with regulations and a commitment to animal welfare should not be seen as constraints but as opportunities for aquatic research centres to continually improve their practices and advance scientific knowledge while upholding their ethical responsibility of care.

Let’s review the current regulatory considerations and the best practices implemented in successful aquatic research centres. We’ll also look at how new technology is available to make that mission easier and more reliable with fish colony software, for instance.

The Regulatory frameworks

Whether the scientific program is marine ecosystems conservation or finding better aquaculture methods, aquatic research centres operate within a complex web of regulations and standards. While the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) publishes international guidelines, it’s important to note that these regulations can vary significantly from one country to another.

Each facility must navigate its regulatory framework, often involving permits, reporting, and adherence to specific care standards. Regulatory compliance is a foundational aspect of aquatic animal health management. It aims at ensuring that research is conducted ethically.

While the specifics of regulations may differ, these principles remain similar: record-keeping and reporting deadlines. If understanding how to prepare the required forms and documentation is a challenge in itself, the core success factors reside in regular data entry and frequent updates in regulatory changes.

Here is the most frequent information required by the national competent authorities:

Best practices for aquatic animal health management

Aquatic animal health and welfare can be maintained in environments with suitable tank size, water quality and nutrition on top of a biosecurity plan to prevent diseases. Here are the top five considerations to achieve this.

1 - Water quality management

Whether for marine biology studies or aquaculture research programs, the synergy between water quality and research precision is undeniable. Beyond water mineral content, the fundamental connection between water quality and the well-being of aquatic species is essential. Providing seawater or freshwater without any viruses or bacteria plays a direct role in aquatic animal health management.

Besides water chemistry, aquatic life support systems will maintain the ideal parameters to keep aquatic animals healthy, such as the correct water temperature and water level.

Water quality report for aquatic animal health management
Water quality reporting tool

2 - Nutrition and feeding strategies

Beyond a healthy environment, optimal nutrition and feeding approaches enhance aquatic animal health. Fish and other aquatic organisms must have the correct quantity and quality of food. Given the size of most fish colonies, it cannot be left to chance but planned and recorded. Nutritional management also gives the benefit of increasing the resistance of the resident population in case of the presence of infectious agents: a well-fed fish is less likely to develop diseases.

New methods called “Smart Feeding” are giving a new perspective on what can be done to improve fish colonies’ nutrition. Using an automatic or a semi-automatic solid feed dispenser, zootechnicians have a new way to ensure each fish tank receives the correct amount of feed thanks to its RFID scanner, which identifies the number of individuals. Thanks to their ergonomic handle and digital display, it makes their job easier but also more reliable. Besides, at Luxaqua, we can connect these digital tools to our LXA_FishLab software to automatically log and control the amount of feed delivered daily.

3 - Habitat enrichment

The physical and mental health of aquatic animals are linked. It starts with providing an appropriate size fish tank with the right lighting level. Depending on the species, enrichment activities can play a significant role in improving their well-being. It can be a matter of designing hiding places, providing toys or any stimuli that encourage natural behaviours. Reducing the stress of aquatic animals is a critical success factor in research programs.

4 - Quarantine protocols and disease detection

A disease is a pathological condition regarded as harmful or abnormal to an organ, system, or entire organism. It can be identified with a group of signs or symptoms. Trained technicians can recognise abnormalities such as missing scales or eyes bigger than usual, but collecting samples and getting a diagnosis from a lab is more reliable. Vigilant monitoring and early detection of diseases require a plan with regular checks and a robust information system to record it.

Non-infectious diseases can be caused by the environment, nutrition or genetic causes, while infectious diseases need infectious agents to cause them. To avoid spreading diseases, we have to control the environment and prevent the introduction of infectious agents through quarantine.

Quarantine measures safeguard resident fish colonies by mitigating the risk of introducing pathogens. New arrivals to the facility undergo a quarantine period (typically 30 days), during which they are closely monitored for signs of illness.

The quarantine time must be used to monitor diseases by doing regular health checks and water quality assessments. Limiting noise and circulation in the quarantine area is usually recommended, and so is the use of dim or red lights for the first 24 hours. Some aquatic research centres invest in specialised equipment, such as PCR machines for DNA-based pathogen detection. These are part of a comprehensive disease management strategy. How quickly you can identify and isolate the affected animals is critical to efficiently contain diseases.

5 – Other biosecurity measures

Quarantine is one of the measures related to biosecurity. Suppose the pathogens are already present in the facility. In that case, the next step is avoiding spreading them thanks to other biosecurity measures which are often implemented in the design of the facility itself: restricted access, physical separation (labs, tools, individual protection equipment), splitting fish tanks on separated life support systems, sanitation (foot bath, disinfectants) and forwards workflows.

By multiplying piping and life support systems, aquatic facilities can facilitate complete sanitation of each on a regular schedule. An ideal design will include PVC pipe fittings so sections of the piping can be disassembled for disinfection. Using the right disinfectant is a crucial point of any biosecurity plan. The chlorine solutions are the most used due to their efficiency.

New technology for aquatic animal health management

Staying up-to-date with emerging trends in new technology is often a game changer in science as it can make aquatic research centres’ missions easier and more reliable. One such trend is applying advanced technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to monitor animal behaviour and health. These technologies enable real-time tracking of individual animals, helping researchers detect subtle changes that may indicate health issues.

But modern technologies in the protocols themselves are not the only way to do better. Using better IT tools than a spreadsheet for monitoring the health of aquatic animals can make the lives of scientists and technicians easier: mistakes become less likely, the survival rate increases and filling regulatory forms are now simple formalities. Thanks to analytics and reporting, software like LXA_Fishlab enables research teams with reliable data collection and continuous improvement.

aquatic animal health management software

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