Biotechnology and aquatic animal health

Learn how we carry out our programs under the biotechnology and aquatic animal health theme.  

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Our goal

In the biotechnology and aquatic animal health theme, our goal is to:

  • apply our research to assess and improve the health of aquatic animals
  • develop and apply leading edge biotechnology-based techniques to detect, monitor and minimize the impact of pathogens on aquatic animals

Detecting and controlling disease

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) faces the challenge of diagnosing and preventing the spread of disease within and between aquaculture and wild fish. This affects both the wild fishery and aquaculture industry.

Canada exports approximately $4.5 billion worth of seafood products each year. To protect this trade, we must meet international standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health. This means using molecular tools to diagnose and treat disease.

DFO scientists develop and apply molecular diagnostic tools along with standard techniques, such as:

  • virology
  • bacteriology
  • histopathology

This allows us to detect, monitor and minimize the impacts of pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.

Some of this research and development is performed under the $59 million National Aquatic Animal Health Program, in which DFO is a key partner.

Aquatic Animal Health Unit

Diseases are diagnosed at the Aquatic Animal Health Unit at the Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick. At the centre, scientists perform as many as 18,000 tests a year.

These tests cover wild fisheries and the several dozen federal, provincial and private hatcheries in the Atlantic regions. The tests are accurate enough to detect a single pathogen per sample, which can help determine the cause of diseases.

This information helps fishery managers control certain significant aquatic animal diseases in Canada, like infectious salmon anaemia.

Biotechnology tools

Cultured oyster

Cultured oyster

Molecular techniques provide pathogen-specific tools to meet obligations under the Fisheries Act. This means you must obtain a license to:

  • release live fish into any fish habitat
  • transfer any live fish to any fish rearing facility

You only get a licence if the fish are free of disease and disease agents that may be harmful to the protection and conservation of fish.

Testing and diagnosing disease

DFO scientists used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based tests to differentiate between different types of infections in oysters.

This difference allowed the control measures to be concentrated on areas affected by the more serious infections. It also limited the economic impacts of culture operation closures.

The World Organisation for Animal Health has declared this PCR confirmation test as the international standard for the diagnosis of certain infections in oysters. Through our extensive research, we've gained international recognition as a world leader in molecular diagnostic techniques.

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