Aquatic animal disease investigation and response

Although each disease investigation and response situation is different, the steps involved can include:

  • initial inspection
  • sample collection and submission
  • disease testing
  • tracing investigation
  • destruction and disposal
  • cleaning and disinfection
  • removal of movement controls

CFIA initial inspection

After we are notified, we will launch an initial inspection to examine the aquatic animals and collect relevant information, such as species affected, life stages affected, signs of illness in the animals, vaccination history, presence of any other diseases and water temperature. At the same time, we will collect samples for laboratory testing.

We may issue movement controls on your animals and equipment, including vehicles and boats. Movement controls are always issued immediately if the facility is in an area where the regulated disease is not known to occur.

We will also discuss any immediate movements that are planned into or from the facility. We will advise you of the information we need to authorize the movements so that disease does not spread, including: what, when, where and how the animals will be moved from the facility and what the animals or other items being moved will be used for.

How the animals or items will be moved must be presented as a step-by-step procedure that describes the measures you will take to ensure that disease does not leave the facility or is contained during transport and at the destination.

Sample collection and submission

Samples are necessary when we suspect an aquatic animal disease we regulate.

The collection, handling, transportation and storage of the samples is carefully monitored and recorded. That is why the Agency will only accept samples that have been collected by or under the oversight of a CFIA veterinary inspector or equivalent government authority. All samples are submitted to the National Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory System. This process is critical to ensure that test results are reliable and valid.

Tracing investigation

A tracing investigation helps us figure out how the disease entered the facility and if other facilities could have been infected. We ask a series of questions about movements of animals, water, feed, equipment, vehicles, and boats into and out of the facility. We ask about movement of any mortalities and animal wastes. We also ask about the people who have worked at or visited your facility. The movements are typically limited to a specific timeframe when the likelihood of disease spread was highest.

The Agency may need certain documents to help in the investigation. These documents may include:

  • a detailed description of facility management practices
  • records of purchases and sales of feed, animals, etc.
  • visitor logbooks
  • contact information for the facility veterinarian

Disease testing

Testing is conducted at a National Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory belonging to Fisheries and Oceans Canada using testing protocols that are validated according to international standards.

A minimum of two tests are used on samples collected during the initial inspection. The most common tests use polymerase chain reaction methods or a culture method with a polymerase chain reaction method to identify the disease agent.

The response measures are determined by whether the facility is in an area where the disease occurs or is not known to occur.

If your facility is located in an area where the regulated disease is not known to occur (a free area), the Agency will eradicate the disease if possible.

Activities carried out by CFIA veterinary inspectors or inspectors to eradicate the disease vary depending on the situation and could include:

  • advising on and approving your written procedures on safe movement of the animals, vehicles and boats and decontamination of the farm
  • overseeing the humane destruction and safe disposal of animals
  • verifying cleaning and disinfection activities
  • requiring the facility to be left empty (fallow) for a period of time before restocking with animals free of the disease

If your facility is in an area where the regulated disease is known to occur (an infected area), the Agency will enhance the geographic containment of the disease, identify whether the disease pattern is changing and protect wild finfish fisheries.

Activities carried out by CFIA veterinary inspectors include:

  • identifying if additional movement controls of finfish, vehicles, boats, and equipment are required
    • this is to prevent movements to non-infected areas of Canada that are not covered under CFIA's domestic movement control program
  • evaluating if the expected characteristics of the disease are changing
  • evaluating if a significant threat to wild fish populations may occur
  • advising, upon request, on disease response measures

If a threat to wild fish populations exists, we will consult with either Fisheries and Oceans Canada or provincial officials, depending on who is responsible for managing the wild fish resource. Although we do not typically order destruction of aquatic animals in facilities in infected areas, such action may be required if the disease could significantly affect wild fish.

Destruction and disposal

If a regulated disease is confirmed, all aquatic animals are humanely destroyed and disposed of using internationally recognized methods, if necessary.

Cleaning and disinfection

Facilities in which infected aquatic animals lived must be cleaned and disinfected after all destruction and disposal activities have been completed. This could include disinfecting nets, tanks, buildings, vehicles, boats, and equipment.

Removal of movement controls

Once cleaning and disinfection are complete, we evaluate the facility to determine when the movement controls may be removed.

Depending on the size of the facility, this whole process can take several months.

Completing these important steps helps ensure that a regulated aquatic animal disease has been eradicated from your facility.