Fish Health Inspectorate

Surveillance programme

We, together with industry, are committed to the development of sustainable aquaculture in Scottish waters and recognise the importance of controlling diseases which have the potential to affect development.

Marine Scotland is responsible for the management of aquaculture fish and shellfish health, which is necessary to assure industry, government, investors, stakeholders and other parties that it is effectively managed and that the risk of loss, due to disease, is minimised. Marine Scotland Science (MSS), veterinarians and fish health experts are also committed to high quality, focused research and development and the sharing of information in the management of disease risk.

Early detection and effective response to disease is aided by the implementation of surveillance and monitoring to ensure early detection of emerging fish and shellfish health issues, as well as a timely and appropriate response when a potential disease risk is encountered.

Minimising disease contraction and spread at Scottish aquaculture sites

It is a priority to minimise the risks of introduction and transmission of diseases at Scottish aquaculture facilities and, under full consultation, MSS has developed a risk-based surveillance model to help minimise those risks. The scheme is also designed to improve the detection of increased mortality at farm sites, combining site visits with passive and intelligence-led surveillance.

There are requirements under the Aquatic Animal Health (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and Regulation 2017/625, as it applies in Scotland, for regular inspections of aquaculture production businesses and authorised processing establishments. MSS’s Fish Health Inspectors are responsible for fish and shellfish disease surveillance in Scotland, including the detection of increased mortality and operate a surveillance scheme at all sites operated by authorised aquaculture production businesses (APBs), in all farming areas. The frequency of site inspection is dependent upon the health status of the zone and the outcome of a risk assessment applied to each site within that zone.

Risk factors for risk based surveillance.

A UK surveillance project, driven by the UK authorities, was undertaken by The Aquatic Animal Health Project Board (AAHP) to identify and consider options for implementation of the inspection and health surveillance requirements of statute and to prepare the UK model for Commission approval. The work included a full consultation with industry, policy makers, scientific experts and veterinarians from the UK and Ireland, including health experts worldwide, who identified the following series of risk factors.

Risk factors determining surveillance frequency of farms:

  • direct spread of disease via water
  • movements of aquaculture animals
  • type of production
  • species kept, are they susceptible?
  • bio-security system, staff competence and training
  • density of farms and processing establishments in the area
  • proximity of farms having lower health status to the farm concerned
  • health status track record of farms in the area
  • presence of disease pathogens in wild aquatic animals
  • risk posed by human activity, predators or birds

The project board identified the main disease risks, categorising them as high, medium and low surveillance frequency: high surveillance frequency for farms importing live fish, ‘super spreaders’ receiving or moving fish to more than 10 destinations; medium surveillance frequency for site contact via fish movements to or from at least three destinations, farms close to processing plants, farms using wet feed, and lower surveillance frequency when considering bio-security, husbandry and site characteristics conducive to disease expression. A means of quantifying those surveillance frequencies was developed by the Fish Health Inspectorate, scoring each risk as a percentage to reflect the overall level of surveillance frequency. A form was then developed for site risk assessment by inspectors in the field, and remotely from the office, to obtain an up-to-date assessment at any point in time. The model is risk-based, supported by diagnostic investigations involving sampling and targeted surveillance to prove disease freedom.

The scheme also includes a percentage of resource on intelligence-led surveillance, training awareness and, importantly, raising the effectiveness of passive surveillance. Passive surveillance is an early response to information from industry and health experts in the course of their site surveillance work.

Unannounced site inspections

There is a statutory requirement for the inspectorate to carry out unannounced inspections under EU Regulation 2017/625, as it applies in Scotland and The Aquatic Animal Health (Scotland) Regulations 2009. Industry stakeholders also requested unannounced inspections be undertaken by the inspectorate through the consultation process of the Healthier Fish Working Group in 2010.

The majority of inspections carried out by the inspectorate will continue to be pre-arranged but farmers must be aware of the legislative requirement and drive from industry to carry out these unannounced visits. Farm staff should therefore ensure records are kept up-to-date and ready for inspection without prior notice. Assistance should be given to inspectors during these visits to enable them to carry out their work.

Inspectors will require access to inspect all the facilities on the site as well as checking the mortality records, movement records, transport records, medicines records, the site Bio-Security Measures Plan, the results of animal health surveillance carried out by (or on behalf of) the business, collect details of the stocks on site and checking that the registration/authorisations details held by Marine Scotland are correct.

These inspections cannot be carried out without the co-operation of site staff and your assistance in the completion of the programme of unannounced inspections is greatly appreciated.

Scotland’s listed disease status

Information on the current status of listed disease in Scotland is available at Health status of fish and shellfish diseases in Scotland.

Application of risk to Scottish farm sites

During routine site inspections, inspectors assess farm sites and consider the ranking that each has been assigned to maintain site records. Fish and shellfish farm sites that hold no species susceptible to the diseases listed in the directive will automatically be ranked as low surveillance frequency. Information received via passive surveillance might influence a site surveillance frequency.

Fish Health Inspectorate standard operating procedures ensure that the surveillance programme is carried out to schedule. Farms are inspected according to the risk-based programme and to ensure that the defined risk remains appropriate, the surveillance frequency allocated to a site is reviewed annually (normally during a site visit), however the surveillance frequency will also be reviewed during the year if any of the risk factors change. The risk assessment may be carried out on farm or in the laboratory base, as necessary.

Please note that this surveillance frequency does not relate to sea lice levels, the potential risk of escapes or presence of non-listed diseases, however because of their importance and potential effects, they are included in the passive site surveillance programme.

Sea Lice Assessment

Sea lice is considered a key health issue in Scottish aquaculture and the site surveillance programme has therefore been augmented to include aspects of sea lice assessment - within the provisions of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Acts of 2007 & 2013. A separate site risk ranking has been developed to enable fish health inspectors to carry out sea lice enhanced inspections based on the following factors:

  • synchronous fallowing
  • historic lice problems in previous four years
  • following Code of good practices
  • establishment of an Area Management agreement
  • treatment discharge in place

Sites are ranked low, medium or high risk to enable the appropriate scheduling of assessments. The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation Fish Health Management Reports are also being considered a useful tool in assessing risk ranks in relation to scheduled visits.

Containment assessment

The containment of farmed fish is an important issue to ensure the future sustainability of the Scottish aquaculture industry. The site surveillance programme therefore includes aspects of containment assessment in relation to the provisions of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Acts of 2007 & 2013. A separate site risk assessment is undertaken to enable fish health inspectors to carry out enhanced containment inspections based on the following factors:

  • Subscription to the industry’s Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture

  • Incidences of previous escape events or circumstances which gave rise to a significant risk of escape on or in the vicinity of the site

  • Incidences of previous escape events or circumstances which gave rise to a significant risk of escape on or in the vicinity of the sites operated by the business

  • Incidences of damage to site equipment by predators

The assessment undertaken during an enhanced containment inspection can be found at the following links:

In 2015 A Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture was published. The purpose of the Standard is to help prevent escapes of finfish as a result of technical failure and related issues at Scottish finfish farms.

Frequency of surveillance:

Scotland’s health status and the site risk rank determines the surveillance frequency of routine inspections undertaken by the Fish Health Inspectorate. Those farm sites classed as highest surveillance frequency are visited at least once a year, those ranked medium surveillance frequency are visited at least every second year and those ranked low surveillance frequency are visited at least every third year (fish) or fourth year (shellfish).

Means of site self-assessment

When on-site the fish health inspector uses 'Surveillance Frequency Form (Fish)’ or ‘Surveillance Frequency form (Shellfish)', as an aid to assessment of current site health risks and to determine its current surveillance frequency. Site managers are welcome to use the form for ongoing site self- assessment (see attached form and guidance note). This would aid consideration of risk mitigating factors within their site bio-security measures plan to minimise the effects of those identified risks. A score of 0-15 would reflect a low surveillance frequency, 15.5-25 medium surveillance frequency and greater than 25 high surveillance frequency.

Inspectors are happy to discuss the factors which resulted in your site surveillance frequency designation and welcome input from industry in ongoing development of the risk assessment procedure. Note that a site ranking is based on theoretical risk factors which have the potential to influence the health status of a site, however a good bio-security measures plan can be tailored to minimise the effect of those factors. Thus a site surveillance frequency does not reflect the actual health status of a site, it simply identifies those sites which are open to risk factors identified by the AAHPB, to enable an effective surveillance programme to be developed.

In 2010 a Food and Veterinary Office mission assessed the implementation of UK national measures, aimed at the control of animal health requirements for aquaculture animals and products and on the prevention and control of certain diseases, as laid down in Council Directive 2006/88/EC and associated legislation. The mission included inspections and audits including visits to sites held by authorised fish and shellfish businesses. Their inspectors concluded that the UK had demonstrated implementation of the Directive EC2006/88 in a satisfactory manner

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