New Efforts to Advance Biosecurity for East Coast Shellfish

©Stephanie Chavez/VASG
Biosecurity refers to protecting organisms from disease, especially when they’re moved from one facility to another. ©Stephanie Chavez/VASG

By Julia Robins, Staff Writer

It’s been 13 years since the shellfish community met in Charleston, South Carolina, to improve guidelines for managing shellfish diseases in interstate transfers along the East Coast. That collaboration produced a report with recommendations that are still timely, but led to no concrete actions. Recently, industry, regulators, and scientists decided to re-launch the discussion.

“We went into this very cognizant that this could not be another Charleston 2002 effort,” says Ryan Carnegie, a Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) researcher. “We need something to happen.”

Carnegie was a participant and co-host at a September 2014 workshop at VIMS on biosecurity in East Coast shellfish, co-sponsored by Virginia Sea Grant. To keep the discussion alive, he and a team of colleagues also received funding from the NOAA Sea Grant Aquaculture Research Program to host a follow-up meeting with industry and regulators this past January.

Biosecurity,  a term that applies to any agricultural product, refers to protecting organisms from disease, especially when they’re moved from one facility to another. For shellfish management on the East Coast, this means preventing the spread of disease as oysters and clams progress from hatchery to grow-out waters to final sale. A successful biosecurity program could also maintain the stability of the shellfish economy.

At the September meeting, “we came up with some stuff that people were pretty excited about,” says Carnegie.

For example, regulators expressed interest in a plan to certify hatcheries that have very few or no shellfish pathogens in their waters. Certified hatcheries could benefit from streamlined permitting to export small shellfish, called seed, across state lines.

“Movement of seed from these very controlled environments is actually what we want to encourage, because it’s the most biosecure product we have,” says Carnegie. “It’s good for business, it’s good for biosecurity, and industry loves it.”

Other ideas that came out of the September meeting included creating processes and working groups to ensure that improvements to disease management are implemented.  Among them: developing a decision tree to guide regulators as they make difficult decisions on biosecurity issues and establishing an advisory committee to help regulators with complex problems. Meeting attendees also suggested developing a disease working group, which would facilitate the sharing of data and protocols among laboratories, and promoting standardized policies among the East Coast states.

At the January 2015 meeting, which Carnegie also co-hosted, over 50 people representing industry, regulation, and extension staff from along the East Coast gathered in Portland, Maine, to delve into these strategies.

The meeting included the formation of an aquaculture health advisory panel, which will coordinate the efforts of other groups, including a shellfish pathology working group, a hatchery certification working group, and a database and zoning working group—all acting on ideas from the January meeting.

Other progress is taking place, too. Carnegie is confident that hatchery certification will start to be implemented this year, and Virginia and Maryland are already working together on streamlining interstate transfers.

He hopes that as some of these projects, like hatchery certifications, are put into place in Virginia, other states will want to get on board.

“I certainly think it’s the case that if we have a Virginia business benefiting from these policies that’s being able to sell seed much more freely than they have in the past, and they’re suddenly at a competitive advantage, that other businesses elsewhere are going to be talking to their regulators about what they can do to level the playing field and put into place regulations in their neighborhood that make sense.”

“We realize we’re not going to be able to change the way people do things wholesale, coast-wide, all at one time,” says Carnegie, “but we think that we can make small steps locally that will lead to bigger things.”

Co-hosts of the September 2014 meeting included Ryan Carnegie, Dave Bushek of Rutgers University, and Lori Gustafson and Lynn Creekmore of the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services. Sponsorship was provided by Virginia Sea Grant, USDA APHIS VS, and New Jersey Sea Grant. Co-hosts of the January 2015 meeting included Ryan Carnegie, Dave Bushek, New Jersey Sea Grant, the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, the University of Maine, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

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