Professor Johan Aerts, Head of the Stress Physiology Research Group (StressChron), explains why reducing stress in farmed fish is an essential way to optimise aquaculture sustainability.
For four decades, aquaculture has been the fastest growing animal production sector worldwide and its importance to secure future global food security is well recognised. Fish promote human health and their production has the potential to become highly sustainable. Consumers, in particular in northern Europe, have become more and more critical about fish quality, fish welfare, and the negative effects of the aquaculture production sector on the environment. In the last decade, welfare aspects such as the impacts of chronic stress have gained interest.
A primary concern for a healthy product and a sustainable production process are infectious diseases, which - both directly and indirectly - account for losses of up to 30 percent of the total aquaculture production worldwide. Compared to the husbandry of poultry, pigs and cattle, there are only a limited number of practical, cost-effective and approved therapeutic methods for effective disease treatment in aquaculture. As a result the potential spread of diseases from aquaculture sites and the negative effects of commonly used chemical products which could end up in the environment are a real concern with respect to wild fish populations. Subsequently, disease prevention is one of the most critical elements for successful aquaculture production.
Effective preventive measures applied at the farm level include the use of probiotics (using beneficial living bacteria as feed ingredients or in the culture water), biosecurity measures and, for a limited number of diseases, vaccination. On a national level, monitoring for potential pathogens in a disease surveillance and control system are ongoing.
The actual development and the risk of a disease outbreak is the result of a complex interaction between the host, the environment and the pathogens (Figure 1).
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