SPC hosts one of the first regional meetings concerning the issue of aquatic biosecurity (12/2007)
Wednesday, 12 December 2007 00:00

By Ben Ponia 

What is biosecurity? 


When hearing the term “aquatic biosecurity”, the first question many people may ask is “What is it?” There is no simple answer. Aquatic biosecurity encompasses a range of concerns relating to the responsible quarantine and translocation of marine aquatic plants and animals, the protection of important ecological and cultural aquatic species, managing aquatic disease outbreaks, safeguarding public health, and abiding by international trade standards.  

While the introduction, cultivation, genetic improvement and mass production of aquatic species is integral to development in the region, they also necessitate that safety measures be addressed. Some key concerns include unexpected outcomes arising from the introduction of a new species, particularly if it becomes invasive; the spread of pathogens such as viruses that have can serious economic and environmental consequences; and maintaining the national health status as a prerequisite for trade and export.


 Fortunately, risk assessment can minimise the likelihood and consequences of an undesirable biosecurity impact. Risk assessment is a key decision-making tool in biosecurity because managers need to manage risks —  a zero tolerance approach to risk is not always practical. Biosecurity needs assessment  In 2004, SPC’s Aquaculture Adviser visited several Pacific Island countries to assess the needs and capacity for aquatic insecurity. It was immediately apparent that many countries lacked the basic expertise to address aquatic insecurity. Also lacking was cross-agency collaboration, especially between fisheries, quarantine, environment and veterinarian services. It was also noted that the driving force behind aquatic insecurity issues was often related to aquaculture. Support at a regional level was seen as part of the solution to overcoming the challenges facing the Pacific.


Pacific Islands regional biosecurity meeting The recent SPC regional aquatic biosecurity meeting — held at SPC’s headquarters in Noumea from 31 October–2 November 2007 — was a small milestone for the regional development of aquatic biosecurity measures. Instead of the usual fisheries-focused forum, a broader spectrum of personnel from government agencies —  fisheries, environment, quarantine and veterinarian services  —  attended the meeting. SPC’s Land Resources Division was a key resource partner, drawing on its knowledge of plant and animal biosecurity. Other participating organisations included the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) and FAO. 

The major objectives of the SPC regional aquatic insecurity meeting were to:

§ develop a common understanding of the key principles,

§ identify the status of aquatic insecurity in the region, and

§ identify a framework for regional cooperation.  


Conference participants included senior representatives from fisheries, quarantine, environment and veterinarian services. It was perhaps one of the most diverse range of participants to an SPC fisheries conference.


Presentations and group exercises centered on several key themes. The main outputs of each theme are highlighted below.


Theme 1: Understanding common principles of aquatic biosecurity 

Because aquatic biosecurity has only recently begun to emerge as an overarching concern and is a relatively new field, it was important for participants to understand the general principles for and definitions of biosecurity, as well as the institutional arrangements affecting it.§  Melba Reantaso, aquaculture pathologist at FAO Rome, gave an overview of biosecurity and its implications for aquaculture, and highlighted various international agreements (and their instruments) governing biosecurity.

§  Eva-Maria Bernoth, chief aquatic veterianian officer for DAFF-Australia (Canberra) and chairperson of OIE’s aquatic standards committee, explained how OIE standards reduce the risk of introducing diseases and its importance to facilitating international trade. Eva-Maria also represented and outined the work of the OIE regional office in Tokyo. 

Theme 2: Biosecurity in the Pacific Islands 

§  Ben Ponia, aquaculture adviser for SPC, provided a regional perspective of aquatic biosecurity and its importance to Pacific Island communities for the protection and conservation of ethno-biodiversity, subsistence living and economic livelihoods.

§  Dominique Benzaken, manager of a coastal management programme at SPREP in Apia, Samoa, spoke about Pacific-wide ecological concerns from invasive pests that can be introduced through fisheries and aquaculture activities.

§  Roy Masamdu, biosecurity specialist with SPC Suva, gave an overview of the biosecurity and trade programme within SPC’s Land Resources Division in Fiji. He outlined how an aquatic biosecurity programme could be integrated with SPC’s current animal and plant biosecurity programmes.

§  Isabelle Mermoud, pathologist with the Direction des Affaires Vétérinaires, Alimentaires et Rurales in Noumea, described the stringent shrimp biosecurity in New Caledonia, which enables the country to maintain its international trade in high quality shrimp products to niche markets in Japan and Europe.

§  Tim Pickering, aquaculture lecturer at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, gave a broad overview of how biosecurity could impact on aquaculture and fisheries activities in Fiji. He described the risk to the fledging shrimp industry from diseases introduced through Asian shrimp imports.

§  Hervé Bichet, veterinarian with Service de la perliculture Tahiti, explained how national biosecurity programmes for pearl culture were established in French Polynesia in order to control the domestic transfers of pearl oysters between atolls to minimise the risk of pathogens and pests. 


Theme 3: Risk assesement and risk management 

Managing seemingly complicated aquatic biosecurity risks can be accomplished through qualitative and/or quantititative processes. The aim of this session was to provide participants with an understaning of the commonly adopted approach (i.e. OIE approach) to biosecurity risk management, and conduct exercises to demonstrate how it may be applied in real life situations.

§  Melba Reantaso outlined the risk assessment process adopted by OIE. This process has four main components:

            1) hazard identification,

            2) risk assessment,

            3) risk management, and

            4) risk communication.



 §  Ramesh Perera, chief aquatic veterinarian with the Primary Industries and Resources South Australia in Adelaide, explained how risk assement was applied in Australia for the quarantine of imports and exports. 


Group exercises for risk assesement were performed. Each group was provided with a different biosecurity scenario and tasked with conducting a hazard identification and risk assessment for their respective scenario.

§  Group 1 reviewed an application for the transfer of adult giant clams from Asia to a hotel resort in Micronesia. Hazards identified were pathogenic viruses, introduced invasive snails, and genetic pollution. The risk was considered unacceptable and the application was rejected.

§  Group 2 reviewed the transfer of pearl oyster shells from Australia to a Pacific Island country, and focused on pathogenic hazards, especially the Akoya and Oedema virus. After conducting a release assessment (i.e. determining the likelihood of disease being present) and an exposure assessment (i.e. determining whether the disease could spread to other oysters in the wild), the Group concluded that risk management through quarantine restrictions could reduce the risk of disease — from imported oysters and the risk of disease spreading into the wild — to an acceptable level.

§  Group 3 considered a proposal to import thousands of juvenile grouper fingerlings for cage culture.The Group considered the major hazards to be pathogenic (i.e. noda-viruses), ecological (i.e. escapees becoming a pest) and environmental (i.e. impacts from culture).

§  Group 4 reviewed the introduction of an exotic freshwater prawn species (Macrobrachium rosembergii) for farming. The key hazard that the group focussed on was a pathogenic risk from whitespot and whitetail disease. After a release and exposure assessment of the disease, it was determined that the chances of this disease being introduced could be reduced to an acceptable level of risk through risk management. Some of the suggested risk management measures included: making the importation a one-off occurance; limiting the number of prawn imports to a small quantity; the provision of a health certification by an exporting country’s official veterinarian; proper treatment of importing materials and water; and permanent holding of importees in a quarantine facility to be used as adult hatchery broodstock only. 


Theme 4: Building a regional aquatic biosecurity framework for the Pacific 

It is clear that technical challenges facing the region require regional solutions. The Pacific is fortunate in that neighbouring metropolitan countries such as Australia and New Zealand have fairly well developed national aquatic biosecurity programmes that the region can learn from.§  Ramesh Perera outlined the rationale and application of biosecurity controls in Australia. He provided his perspective of a state government official (South Australia) and also the perspective of the federal government official (i.e. DAFF Biosecurity Australia).

§  Brendan Gould, senior policy analyst with the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Wellington, outlined New Zealand’s aquatic biosecurity programme. He mostly focussed on New Zealand’s efforts to control the introduction of exotic species particularly through the shipping industry, noting that this is a issue shared with the Pacific Islands whom receive these same vessels. The last part of the meeting involved participants designing a framework, outling the main components for regional collaboration.

These issues were summarised in a presentation made by Ben Ponia. Areas where assistance is required are:

§  addressing infrastructure (e.g. quarantine) requirements,

§  developing expertise,

§  cooperation among agencies and countries,§  sharing information (e.g. ecological hazard’s database),

§  developing policy and legislation,

§  ensuring that political will is used responsibly,

§  raising awareness about the need for biosecurity among the general public, and

§  asessing the biosecure status of our island biospheres.  


Noting the urgency of biosecurity, meeting participants reinforced an early reccommendation made at the 5th SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting (Noumea, April 2005) that a regional biosecurity programme be put in place by 2010. Summary of meeting issues

- There is constant movement of aquatic species within and from outside the Pacific Islands region, raising ecological threats to important wild species, and increasing risks from diseases (especially in pearl and shrimp aquaculture). Restrictions on trade are becoming increasingly stringent and more politicised.

- National biosecurity responses require cooperation among agencies such as fisheries, environment, quarantine and veterinarian services, infrastrucure (e.g quarantine facilities), awareness of risks (publically and politically), and more capacity in risk assessment and management.

 - Regional biosecurity responses require coordination and harmonisation with plant and livestock sectors, specialist services (e.g. aquatic epidemiology), and science and information (e.g. database of biosecurity hazards).

- Investing in biosecurity programmes is a much more cost-effective solution to dealing with the often severe consequences. For example, the economic costs for a pearl disease monitoring programme pales in comparison to economic lossess suffered through disease outbreaks.

- Workshop participants formulated a framework for a regional biosecurity programme that addresses critical areas.

- The region was requested to support SPC in its attempts to have a regional aquatic biosecurity programme in place by 2010.