Fish Farms

Veterinary Approach

Most of us are accustomed to thinking of veterinarians as treating farm animals such as cows, hogs, horses, sheep and goats - even captive wild animals like elk. Or we think of them taking care of our pets - dogs, cats, perhaps ferrets or birds. But what could a veterinarian possibly do for a fish-patient?

Aquaculture veterinarians are pioneers - it's a new field and a new approach in fish farming.

What does an aquaculture veterinarian do?

Disease treatment and prevention Aquaculture veterinarians aim to prevent disease, and they actively intervene to treat diseases. They have the expertise and legal authority to prescribe medication. They work with their fish-farming clients to develop biosecurity measures to avoid introducing diseases, just as a large-animal veterinarian works with dairy farmers or hog farmers.

Combining disciplines Animal husbandry, fish nutrition, disease diagnosis and treatment, epidemiology, microbiology, and water chemistry are all factors in maintaining fish health. Aquaculture veterinarians can turn to the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to test for disease, and to the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine for research, expertise, and continuing education.

Risk assessment Until recently, there has been zero tolerance for microscopic organisms that may cause disease in fish. For example, if a fish were found in Wisconsin with a virus that had been unknown here previously, all the fish that had come in contact with it would be destroyed. Now we are more likely to assess the risk before deciding how to handle the situation. Does the virus pose a human health risk? Will this virus actually cause fish to become sick? Will it make fish sick only if they are already weakened by other causes? Is it likely to spread?

Food safety Many farm-raised fish in Wisconsin are raised for food. Just as large-animal veterinarians do, aquaculture veterinarians protect against drug residues and microorganisms that could make people sick if they ate the contaminated fish.

Why take this approach?

Economics Aquaculture is farming, and fish farmers need to get the most out of their investment and assure a quality product, just as other livestock farmers do. They need veterinarians as much as any livestock operation does.

The big picture Fish may come to farms from the wild, and fish used to stock public waters come from farms or hatcheries. Public hatcheries and fish farms do not "produce" disease, but they may be important sentinels, alerting wildlife managers to potential problems in public waters.

What is the role of the Animal Health Division of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection?

Leadership We have an aquaculture veterinarian on staff - the first state agriculture department in the Midwest, and one of the first in the nation, to do so. He works in on-farm education for veterinarians and fish farmers, meets regularly with the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association, and serves as a resource for many aquaculture organizations and agencies nationwide.

On-farm training days We provide ongoing training for private-practice veterinarians and our own field veterinarians and animal health inspectors. So far, we have eight private practice veterinarians throughout the state who serve fish farms, and 17 others who are participating in our training programs.

How is this trend playing out in other places?

Nationally More than 250 aquaculture veterinarians are working in private industry, private practice, and in state and federal agriculture and natural resource agencies. Perhaps more important, they are also working in veterinary colleges and university aquaculture programs, so their numbers will grow in the future.

Regionally Six other states are working with Wisconsin to develop a veterinary approach in the Midwest: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio.

Who benefits besides fish farmers?

Direct service In addition to private fish farms, we also serve Department of Natural Resources fish hatcheries, tribal hatcheries, and anglers' groups with education and information.

Indirect service Consumers get a better product in food fish. And the wild fish population stays healthy because fish stocked from farms into public waters are healthy. That's a plus for wildlife, for anglers, and for Wisconsin's tourism economy.

For additional information contact 608-224-4887 or email.