Aquaculture antimicrobial resistance risk needs action

Diaa Abdel Reheem Kenawy
Diaa Abdel Reheem Kenawy – An Egyptian researcher puts fish under the microscope.

New research undertaken as part of the CGIAR research program on fish agrifood systems (FISH) has identified means to lessen the use of antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, antivirals, and antiprotozoals, in aquaculture.

The study, Unpacking factors influencing antimicrobial use in global aquaculture and their implication for management: a review from a systems perspective, recommends urgent internationally coordinated action to better understand the scale of the problem. It also notes a need to integrate risk assessment as an alternative means to reduce disease.

The intensification of fish farming systems has resulted in higher risks of disease outbreaks and a trend towards more antimicrobial use. But the overuse of antimicrobials and consequent antimicrobial resistance (AMR) may compromise the treatment of bacterial infections in the target species and in humans.

The report said antimicrobial use could be mitigated through farmer training, spatial planning, assistance with disease identification, applying better management practices at farm level and stricter regulations.

National governments and international organisations could also assist with disease-free fish seed and vaccines, enforce rigid monitoring of the quantity and quality of antimicrobials used by farmers, and minimise antimicrobial residues in the farmed species and in the environment.

FISH Program Director Michael Phillips said researchers currently had no reliable data on global use of antimicrobials in fish farming.

“A global approach to this issue is necessary, targeting fish production systems and products aimed for both for domestic and export markets,” said Mr Phillips.

“With aquaculture, the fastest-growing food sector in the world, it will be critical to ensure that growth is coupled with attention to the use of antimicrobial drugs.”

The report said evidence of AMR in humans linked to antimicrobial use in aquaculture was building.

Antimicrobial use in aquaculture differs from that in livestock farming due to aquaculture’s greater diversity of species and farming systems, alternative means of application, and less consolidated farming practices.

More than 600 species are known to be under cultivation and this diversity could provide resilience, but it also adds complexity with a greater number of pathogens for which antimicrobials has often been the first line of defence for many farmers.

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