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International Waters: Optimism as Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome Deadline Approaches

Posted: Aug. 29, 2012, 4:10 p.m., EDT

Since 2007, Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome (EUS) has appeared on the European Union ornamental fish agenda and is a matter of considerable concern for the industry. Should the disease be deemed a genuine threat to EU native fish stocks, the likely outcome would be either a ban on imports of susceptible ornamental fish species into the EU or the imposition of a two-year EUS-free requirement, as already exists for diseases such as spring viraemia of carp (SVC).

After a series of delays, the European Commission decided at the end of October 2010, to make “transitional provisions” and postpone the implementation of any restrictions until the end of 2012. Therefore, ornamental fish imports into the EU have been able to continue—as long as all health certification requirements are met, of course—without the need for certification of EUS-free status.

Fish Marketplace: Optimism as EUS Deadline Approaches
It won’t be long before the aquatic industry knows whether or not EUS restrictions will affect imports of fish such as koi. Photo by John Dawes
However, the above transitional period expires on December 31, 2012, and this, obviously, is raising concerns among both exporters of ornamental fish to Europe as well as European importers. The cause for this mounting concern is that the potential list of susceptible species (which is hotly disputed) originally included fish belonging to some important trade groups, such as gouramis, some barbs, goldfish and koi, among others. Later revisions reduced the number of genera and species, but uncertainties remain.

The above postponement was established “to more precisely assess the risk associated with the import of ornamental aquatic animals intended solely for closed ornamental facilities,” (i.e., pet shops, garden centers, home and commercial aquaria, ponds, wholesale facilities without direct contact with natural waters or those equipped with an effluent treatment system).

On October 6, 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), via its Panel on Animal Health and Welfare, published a ”Scientific Opinion,” which is an official assessment document on EUS (see note).

The 58-page opinion is, as expected, very detailed. It concluded—among many other things—that EUS is likely to have been repeatedly imported via consignments of ornamental fish and that there is a greater risk of entry of the causative agent, Aphanomyces invadans, into closed facilities than into open ones. It also concluded that there is “limited traceability of the origin of live ornamental fish from the exporting sources to support the assessment of the EUS free status of imported consignments.”

Despite the opinion that “Climatic conditions, associated risk factors, and the presence of susceptible species, are not obstacles to the establishment of A. invadans in Europe,” EUS has never been reported in the EU. Further, aquaculture species produced within Europe “are not known to be highly susceptible to EUS.”

The Panel, therefore, recommended that scientifically based surveys should be conducted for “aquaculture, live imports and the wild.” Greater knowledge of the surveillance systems in place should also be gained, traceability of ornamental fish movements within the EU should be increased and steps should be taken “to ensure and monitor that adequate biosecurity measures are in place.”

Since the opinion was published, several meetings occurred with ornamental aquatic industry trade organizations, which have been lobbying for the removal of EUS from the European exotic diseases list. It appears that the official, final decision hasn’t, as yet, been made, but—if I am reading the signals correctly—there could be a good chance that EUS will be removed from the list altogether. This is based on the lack of strong arguments or evidence in favor of proceeding with the inclusion of the disease in EU legislation, something that would result in the above-mentioned bans or restrictions.

Should EUS be removed from the list, the outcome would likely be that a Commission Decision will be published in advance of the expiry date of the current moratorium clarifying the situation and, at long last, the removal of EUS from the list of European exotic fish diseases, at least, for the foreseeable future.

Note: Access the full text of the list here.

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