Fisheries experts will start looking for incidents of infectious diseases in aquatic animals across 14 States including Kerala during the coming months.

They will also provide early warning for nearly 40 disease emergencies and facilitate contingency planning as part of the national programme to monitor the aquatic animal health in the country.

In Kerala, the surveillance programme will be implemented in Ernakulam, Alapuzha, Kottayam and Kannur districts in the first phase. Later, the programme will be extended to the whole of the State, said Raja Swaminathan, a scientist of the Kochi unit of the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow.

The National Surveillance Programme for Aquatic Animal Diseases, will be launched mid September with an orientation programme for the scientists to be held in Lucknow.

The project is expected to give the researchers insight into diseases affecting the crustaceans, mollusc, fin fishes and also ornamental fishes.

The outbreak of fish diseases including the white spot disease in shrimps had been a cause of concern for the fish farmers and also exporters in Kerala. Researchers pointed out that the economic loss due to shrimp disease in brackish water system alone accounted to over Rs.1,000 crore two years ago.

The research programme is expected to generate a scientific assessment of the disease situation in aquaculture sector of the country. The Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries and the National Fisheries Development Board are supporting the Rs. 31crore-project. Freshwater, marine, brackish water and coldwater fishes will be in select maritime states including Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka will be monitored for five years.

In each state, up to six districts of aquaculture importance will be selected for the surveillance programme.

The other districts would also be covered when there is report of fish disease outbreak, researchers said. In Kerala, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Central Institute of Fisheries Technology and Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences will be the partners of the programme. Kerala will get Rs. 5 crore for the disease surveillance.

The programme will assist in the identification of the range and distribution of pathogen affecting aquatic animals and provide early warning of disease emergencies. It is also expected to provide accurate and cost-effective information for assessing and managing risks of pathogen transfer associated with trade in aquatic animals, researchers said.

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