Disease ‘threatens’ fastest-growing food production industry

Published 17 December 2012

Two leading marine ecologists have warned that, without strategic management, disease has the potential to threaten food security in tropical aquaculture.

Aquaculture is currently the fastest-growing food production industry in the world, and is rapidly replacing wild fisheries in supplying the world’s population with fish and shellfish. However, infectious disease continues to pose a major threat to aquaculture, where outbreaks of deadly pathogens can wipe out entire stocks and put a halt to food production.

In a paper published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Dr Tommy Leung (pictured here), a lecturer in parasitology and evolutionary biology at the University of New England, and Dr Amanda Bates, a Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, analyse the pattern of disease outbreaks in fish and shellfish farms around the world.

They have found that disease outbreaks on farms in tropical regions tend to have a more devastating impact than those at temperate regions. Not only do diseases in tropical regions result in greater losses of stock, they also progress more rapidly, leaving less time to take actions to either control or contain the outbreak.

They have also found that juvenile fish and shellfish are more vulnerable to pathogens than adult fish, and disease outbreak in shellfish generally progress more rapidly than in fish populations.

They say that, in conditions where warming occurs – such as El Niño cycles or climate change – increases in the incidence of pathogen outbreaks have the potential to exacerbate the progression and intensity of disease outbreaks.

Dr Leung and Dr Bates recommend taking disease vulnerability into account as a key consideration when designing and managing aquaculture, and that strategies for adapting aquaculture for future climate change must involve infrastructure for disease monitoring and control.