KOCHI: Following the detection of Tilapia Lake Virus in certain fish farms, the government has activated its aquatic disease surveillance network to help farmers monitor and control the same as an outbreak can destroy fish farms across the state.
To support this network, the fisheries department is setting up nine monitoring laboratories in major districts over the next few months so that farmers can get their specimens checked immediately. "If a farmer alerts Kufos that fishes are dying in his farm, a trained team rushes in to take sample within 24 hours. Soil testing and water analysis is done.
If it is serious, samples are sent to a national laboratory following which quarantine measures are put in place.
If not, farmer is given general advice on his problem," said joint director of aquaculture, fisheries department, Sheela R.
A surveillance and monitoring system is critical since aquaculture is catching up in a big way after the recent fall in marine catches. Many inland waterbodies and coastal regions have become fish farms with youngsters turning entrepreneurs.
Also, the state with almost 210 fish species is looking to double its production from 40,000 metric tonnes. While there is an active surveillance system for diseases like SARS, avian flu, the focus has shifted to aquatic species with agencies like Food and Agriculture Organization issuing alerts.
While there is a lot of attention on shrimps due to its popularity, Tilapia is catching on in Kerala. It is the second-most farmed fish in the world.
"The first topic while discussing export potential is food safety. Apart from mandatory green certification that looks at micro-details like the farm where the fish is grown, countries are asking whether we have a monitoring and surveillance system," said KK Vijayan, director, Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture.
Experts who gathered in Kochi for the 11th international fisheries and aquaculture forum said many countries were looking to ban species that could jeopardise fish trade.
Chairperson of the state aquatic disease monitoring cell Devika Pillai said we need not fear that humans too may contract this disease. "We don't know how these virus and bacteria will grow or when they can change their behaviour after all it is killing the animal we consume. The key concern is that we have not made our farms 'bio secure'.
It means that there is no proper cleansing of the waters, securing the farm from birds and animals that can transmit the disease. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu farmers invest a lot to protect the vannamei crop so that the chances of contracting a disease is less," she said.
There have been several cases of one farmer harvesting a successful crop in isolation and other instances where fish farmers who invested a lot and lost everything because the neighbouring farmers did not take care.