Biosecurity is an essential practice to minimize the risk of introduction into, establishment, and spread of pathogenic agents within a farm, allowing for an increment in production, and an improvement in animal health, welfare and public acceptance. Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI) has developed risk-based assessment tools to measure farm biosecurity and risk of pathogens introduction and spread within and between farms of Mediterranean seabass and seabream farms as part of the ongoing Horizon 2020 project.
In this "Farm biosecurity and Risk-based Assessment tools for health Management of Norwegian salmon farming" NRC funded project, we have applied the tools to Norwegian salmon farming system. We have developed a digital farm biosecurity questionnaire for farmers self-assessment and an online platform (dashboard) in order to provide an efficient way for decision-makers to view and identify areas at which risk-based interventions could be implemented in a timely manner.
The first step of this project involved discussions with subject experts who are fish health specialists, veterinarians, and epidemiologists, and review literatures to gain a good understanding of current production system of different sectors (broodstock, hatchery, sea-cage) of Norwegian salmon production and to identify transmission routes and actions that have potential for disease introduction and spread.
In order to collect information on the biosecurity practices on-farm, a digital farm biosecurity questionnaire was developed. The questionnaire (See Appendix 1) contained self-explanatory questions relevant for establishing external and internal biosecurity scores. The questionnaire covers farm general characteristics, production management and the following aspects of biosecurity practices on-farm: introduction of eggs and live fish, vaccine and vaccination procedures, water source and treatment, feed, harvesting, facility entry and exit, equipment and vehicles, waste management, fish health monitoring and management, disease reporting, diagnostic capacity, biosecurity practices and record keeping. After that, the questionnaire was translated into Norwegian language and thoroughly reviewed by subject experts prior to a pilot testing.
A step-wise approach was used for quantifying biosecurity measures and estimating risk by forming a dataset consisting of questions most relevant to external and internal biosecurity. The methodology was based on the method created by Ghent University, Biocheck.Ugent®, a system that approaches biosecurity in a general manner, focusing on transmission routes shared by numerous different types of infectious agents. In June 2020, we published the biosecurity risk model specifically developed for seabass/seabream production, the work that gives the fundamental basis for developing a biosecurity measurement system in Norway.
A dashboard (https://interaqua.shinyapps.io/Framnor) has been developed to automatically integrate the digital biosecurity questionnaire with the algorithms for quantifying biosecurity system and for estimating risk for specific pathogen introduction. The dashboard contains the information on basic knowledge of salmon production biosecurity and analytical functionalities including summary statistics and data visualization of the farm questionnaire survey, on-farm biosecurity scoring system presented in a form of map, graphs, and tables for the biosecurity score of the whole Norway, categorized by production areas 1-13, and for each individual farm. The dashboard aims to be a farmer self-assessment tool for an objective evaluation of farm and/or regional biosecurity level. The dashboard functionalities was reviewed and discussed with the fish health service (Åkerblå) for its applicability.
Scientific presentations were given at the EU project evaluation meeting in June 2020, EAFP conference in September 2021, and MedAID stakeholder and annual meetings in 2021 (see in Results tab).
1) The project developed an objective, analytical tool to quantify biosecurity measures and their relative importance. Farmers can identify gaps and weaknesses in the biosecurity plan, allocate resources and tailor the biosecurity program to fit the risk profile of their farms. In a region, it also helps to compare a specific farm with an average of the biosecurity scores obtained by neighboring farms, so that the owners can benchmark their biosecurity and evaluate the risk profile of the region.
2) The project provides a dashboard for a simple, transparent, efficient way to integrate, visualize and analyze data. It is a real-time, scientifically-based tool for measuring farm biosecurity.
3) Implementing tailored biosecurity will prevent disease occurrence and reduce mortality, improve production efficiency and reduce climate impact.
4) Preventing disease occurrence and reduced mortality will improve aquaculture perception, reduce production cost and improve competitiveness.
Disease awareness and control need tools allowing the industry real-time assessments of the epidemiological situation as part of tailored management to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of disease agents. Under the framework of MedAID (Mediterranean Aquaculture Integrated Development) project funded by the European Union Horizon 2020, grant agreement number 727315, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI) leads a work package on “Health management and diseases and fish welfare” for which risk-based assessment tools have been developed for relevant new and emerging pathogens in the Mediterranean basin. Within this work package, a biosecurity scoring platform has been developed for the Mediterranean seabass/seabream industry. In the present supplementary funding application, we will adapt and expand these tools to perform a pilot study for the Norwegian salmon farming industry. We will also enhance the tool from desktop to a web-based application. This work will be developed and performed in close collaboration with selected companies/sites. Such a scoring system has not earlier been applied in the salmon farming industry in Norway. Adding to this, a new approach called Progressive Management Pathway for Improving Aquaculture Biosecurity (PMP/AB) will be integrated. This will all be discussed in workshops with the various stakeholders.
A successful application of the platform and the PMP/AB approach can be used to evaluate the sustainability production capacity in a region/zone as a supplement to the present traffic light model. The online dashboard can be used to benchmark biosecurity, identify gaps and create more efficient ways for decision-makers to view and get access to scientifically-based risk estimates, and then identify areas where risk-based interventions should be implemented.