AQUAPLAN - Australia's National Strategic Plan for Aquatic Animal Health

​​AQUAPLAN is Australia’s National Strategic Plan for Aquatic Animal Health. The plan outlines objectives and priorities to enhance Australia’s management of aquatic animal health. AQUAPLAN is a collaborative initiative that is developed and implemented by the Australian and state and territory governments and aquatic animal industries.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (the department) coordinates the development and implementation of AQUAPLAN. National implementation of AQUAPLAN activities and projects is overseen by the Animal Health Committee (AHC) and its Sub-Committee on Aquatic Animal Health (SCAAH) in close collaboration with industry. Australia has had two previous five-year AQUAPLANs. AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 is Australia’s current national strategic plan for aquatic animal health.

AQUAPLAN 2014-2019

AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 is Australia’s third national strategic plan for aquatic animal health. It was endorsed by industry through the National Aquatic Animal Health Industry Reference Group and later by the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum. The plan commenced following ministerial endorsement on 11 August 2014.


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AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 has five objectives and each objective is supported by activities that address specific aquatic animal health management issues. The status of AQUAPLAN’s 24 activities is provided in the tables below each objective (current at March 2019). For more information on any of the AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 activities below please contact the Aquatic Pest and Health Policy team.

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1. Improving regional and enterprise-level biosecurity

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of March 2019)
1.1. Develop sector-specific biosecurity plan templates and guidance documents

The Aquaculture Farm Biosecurity Plan – Generic Guidelines and Template was published on the department’s website in 2016.

SCAAH endorsed the development proposal for sector-specific aquaculture biosecurity plans.

The National Biosecurity Plan Guidelines for the land based abalone industry and for Australian oyster hatcheries were published on the department’s website in August 2018.

The barramundi plan was endorsed by SCAAH and AHC in October 2018 and March 2019, respectively. The plan will now be published and made available on the department’s website.

The Australian Prawn Farmers Association (APFA) is developing a sector specific biosecurity plan consistent with the generic Aquaculture Farm Biosecurity Plan. This plan was funded by the department through the Stronger Biosecurity and Quarantine Initiative.

In progress
1.2. Develop a program to support farms to develop and implement enterprise-level biosecurity plans

The SCAAH Biosecurity Plan working group (WG) oversees implementation of this activity. For phase 1 of the project, a social science survey was undertaken to assess eight aquaculture sectors’ preferred approaches to support the development and implementation of enterprise level biosecurity plans. Phase 1 was funded by the department through the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC). The final report was received at the end of March 2019.

The survey indicated the sectors want assistance to develop and implement on-farm biosecurity plans. Assistance and activity preferences varied with sector, but several key recommendations were made. Respondents indicated they would like assistance writing and reviewing plans specific to their farm/business; sector-specific training workshops with the provision of sampling kits; disease reference guides for those diseases considered high risk and further sector-specific and/or system specific biosecurity plans for those sectors yet to develop a plan.

These results will inform the development of phase 2 of the project.

In progress
1.3. Develop a model aquaculture enterprise health accreditation scheme using abalone aquaculture as an exampleThe Abalone Health Accreditation Program was endorsed by AHC and provided to industry. Implementation of the program is now occurring at a jurisdictional level, including development of biosecurity plans.Complete

2. Strengthening emergency disease preparedness and response capability

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of March 2019)
2.1. Implement an agreed work plan to develop industry–government emergency aquatic animal disease response arrangements (the Aquatic Deed)

Development of the Aquatic Deed (deed) continues to be a priority for both governments and aquatic animal industries. 2018 was a busy year for the project team and the industry:government deed working group (WG). Key achievements included:

  • Maddocks, the legal firm who provide legal services for the plant (EPPRD) and terrestrial animal (EADRA) deeds, conducted a legal review of the draft deed.
  • Prospective parties provided comments on the draft deed (v11 May 2018) and many of these comments were considered by the WG in August 2018.
  • The WG met six times in 2018 (4 teleconferences; two face to face meetings).
  • The project team continued briefings at industry and government meetings.
  • An interim draft (v19 December 2018) that reflects the intent of the last WG meetings was released for all prospective parties to consider.
  • Prospective industry parties provided comments on the draft deed by 8 March 2019 and met in late in late March 2019 to discuss their comments.

The project team, with input from the WG, will complete the additional disease evaluations by May 2019.

A key objective for 2019 will be for prospective parties, facilitated by the project team, to develop the final draft deed. The project team will hold working group meetings in April and May 2019 to resolve all outstanding prospective party comments and agree on an intent for any further changes to the deed.

The project team in conjunction with Maddocks, will release the final draft deed by 30 June 2019.

In progress
2.2. Develop a program of national and sector-specific emergency aquatic animal disease response exercises, including field and operational activities

The SCAAH Emergency Response Exercises working group (WG) oversee implementation of this project. Milestones 1-5 are complete; 6-7 are ongoing. SCAAH members were provided with a questionnaire in June 2018 seeking information on recent and current exercises in each jurisdiction. The questionnaire will be provided to industry in early 2019. A gap analysis is currently underway to identify gaps and priorities, and a final report will be developed once the industry responses are received.

The final report will recommend a program of exercises to address identified gaps and priorities. The report will be provided to SCAAH and AHC for consideration and comment.

In progress
2.3. Strengthen national first-response capability to ensure inclusion of specific aquatic animal disease expertise

NBC endorsed the arrangements for the National Biosecurity Response Team (NBRT) from 1 July 2017. It was agreed that the department, AHA and Plant Health Australia would manage the NBRT, in a joint approach, from 1 July 2017; when the NBRT management arrangements were implemented.

ecruitment for the NBRT is now complete. Ongoing activities to support and develop the skills and knowledge of members have commenced.


3. Enhancing surveillance and diagnostic services

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of March 2019)
3.1. Identify possible improvements to increase the sensitivity of Australia’s passive surveillance systems for aquatic animal diseases

The SCAAH Increasing Sensitivity of Passive Surveillance Systems working group (WG) oversees implementation of this activity. For phase 1, the WG agreed that a social science survey was required to identify any weaknesses and areas for potential improvement in Australia’s current passive (general) surveillance system for aquatic animal diseases. A competitive tender process was undertaken and an independent research company was selected by the WG, and commissioned by the department, to undertake the survey. The survey was funded through the Agricultural Competiveness White Paper initiative.

Three aquaculture sectors (abalone, barramundi and yellowtail kingfish) and aquatic animal health providers to those industries were surveyed. Respondents were identified and a literature review July 2018. The questionnaire for the qualitative interviews was developed and reviewed by the WG in August 2018, and the qualitative interviews completed in September 2018. The quantitative questionnaire was subsequently developed and the quantitative interviews completed from October 2018 to January 2019. The final report was received in March 2019 and will inform the development of phase 2 of the project.

In progress
3.2. Make the Aquatic animal diseases significant to Australia identification field guide available as an application for mobile devices

The 4th edition of the field guide was deployed as an app across Android, Windows and iOS platforms in March 2017.

Although this activity is complete, the 5th edition of the field guide is currently being developed to include current scientific information. Both the website version and the mobile app will be revised.

3.3. Undertake aquatic animal health benchmarking for specific aquaculture industry sectors

The SCAAH Benchmarking working group prepared and submitted a project proposal to the FRDC’s Aquatic Animal Health and Biosecurity Subprogram in February 2019. The proposal was successful and oversight of the project was handed to the principal investigators at SCAAH-35 (face-to-face meeting; 20-21 March 2019).

The abalone, barramundi, southern bluefin tuna, and Murray cod industries were identified as potential model industries for the project. The project lead has met with the abalone, barramundi and southern bluefin tuna industries to inform them of the project and seek their involvement. This has been generally successful.

Phase 1 of the project will involve surveying each of the target industries to gain a better understanding of the type of production parameters that farmers currently monitor and record. The results will be used to inform the development of phase 2.

Phase 2 will involve setting up a ‘charter of accounts’ for each industry. That is, a system for data collection, storage and utilisation will be set up for each industry to ensure farms in each industry are collecting the same data in the same way. A consultant will be engaged for this phase of the project.

In progress
3.4. Adopt processes (new or existing) for formal recognition of validation status of diagnostic tests and identify specific test validation priorities

The SCAAH Validation Testing working group (WG) presented its report for comment at SCAAH-25 in March 2016. Comments were addressed and the report was finalised on 22 March 2016. The WG completed its work plan in August 2016. It noted the on-going nature of validation work.

Further activities under activity 3.4 (e.g. validation of specific diagnostic tests) were funded by the department, as part of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper initiative (see activity 3.6).

3.5. Develop stable positive control material and internal controls for molecular tests for detection of important endemic and exotic pathogens

The final report for FRDC project 2014/002 ’Aquatic Animal Health Subprogram: Development of stable positive control material and development of internal controls for molecular tests for detection of important endemic and exotic pathogens’ is pending endorsement, but all project activities have been completed.

The quality assurance of controls and the distribution of protocols and DNA/RNA controls to laboratories are both complete. The provision of advice regarding implementation of protocols and troubleshooting based on feedback from participating laboratories are also complete.

Positive control materials for 32 PCR assays have been prepared. Materials distributed to laboratories, on request.

3.6. Develop validated diagnostic tests for significant new and emerging diseases of aquatic animals in Australia

Projects on Abalone herpesvirus, Pilchard orthomyxo-like virus (POMV), prawn viruses and oyster oedema disease (OOD) are complete and reports are available on the FRDC’s website (FRDC Projects 2009/032, 2013/033 and 2013/036, 2013/002, respectively).

Projects investigating Yellow head virus genotypes, Perkinsus olseni, and Penaeus monodon mortality syndrome are ongoing (FRDC Projects 2015/005, 2016/009 and 2016/013, respectively).

Projects validating molecular tests for white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) and ostreid herpesvirus-1 (OsHV-1) are ongoing. WSSV: manuscript to be submitted and the OIE chapter updated. OsHV-1: laboratory data to be collated, gaps identified and further data generated if required. The final report is due at the end of June 2019. These projects are funded by the department though the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper initiative.

In progress
3.7. Improve the breadth of data in Neptune, particularly histopathology slide collections

The Australian Biosecurity Intelligence Network (ABIN) ceased its hosting duties of Neptune in 2014. The CSIRO agreed to host Neptune from 2015.
The department and CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) agreed on a two year project to recover and redevelop Neptune from the ABIN archive and permanently host it on CSIRO IT-infrastructure and make it available for Australia’s aquatic animal health community. The project commenced in July 2017. An IT specialist was recruited to redevelop Neptune and manage scanning of additional histopathological slides into Neptune.

A prototype Neptune site was developed on CSIRO systems in 2018. CSIRO-AAHL and the department evaluated the beta 1 prototype and a beta 2 was subsequently developed. The beta 2 version has been evaluated by CSIRO-AAHL and the department and will be provided to SCAAH for comment.

Scanning of slide collections is in progress and standardised annotation protocols for digitising additional histological slides will be considered by SCAAH.

This project was funded by the department through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper initiative.

In progress
3.8. Describe existing components of Australia’s aquatic animal disease diagnosis network to identify interactions, responsibilities and performance measuresSpecific components of the network include:
  • Australian and New Zealand standard diagnostic procedures (ANZSDPs) for aquatic animal diseases: work plan developed and endorsed. ANZSDPs in progress.
  • National laboratory proficiency testing program: 2013-15 program complete. Program in review and final report drafted. 2017-19 program has commenced.
  • Aquatic animal health technical forum: 2013-15 program complete. Final report available on the FRDC’s website (FRDC Project 2012/002). The most recent FRDC Aquatic animal health technical forum was held at the Department of Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment in Tasmania, in March 2019.
  • SCAAH now the administrator of the Aquatic Slide of the Quarter. This program is on-going.
  • Laboratories for Emergency Animal Disease Diagnosis and Response (LEADDR): OsHV-1, WSSV and Megalocytivirus tests have been included in proficiency testing.
  • Neptune: see activity 3.7.

An overview document describing Australia’s aquatic animal disease diagnosis network has been drafted and will be sent to SCAAH for consideration and comment.

In progress

4. Improving availability of appropriate veterinary medicines

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of March 2019)
4.1. Consider aquatic animal production issues to inform development of the national antimicrobial resistance strategy

SCAAH members provided input on aquatic animal production issues to inform the National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2015-2019. The strategy is available on the department’s website.

The department will discuss with aquaculture industries about activities that would be useful to them. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) now requires all Member Countries to report on antimicrobial use.

4.2. Run an industry–government workshop to identify ways to improve access to veterinary medicines and chemicals, including low-risk chemicalsThe National Aquaculture Council (NAC) participated in the AgVet Collaborative Forum program meetings including the AgVet Prioritisation Workshop in June 2015. Aquaculture’s existing and categorised priorities have been registered on a master list of priorities of all animal and plant sectors, and work is ongoing.Complete
4.3. Develop arrangements to improve industry coordination of minor use permit applications to the APVMA

The SCAAH Aquatic Veterinary Medicines working group (WG) oversees the implementation of activities 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5. The WG (which includes NAC and Aquaculture Council representatives) works with industry to gather and share information on aquatic veterinary medicines and facilitate national activities led by NAC and other permit holders/applicants.

A list of registered, permitted, soon to expire and non-permitted products requiring Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) application are regularly discussed and updated through the WG. The WG last met via teleconference in October 2018 and provided an update on their status at SCAAH-35 (face to face; 20-21 March 2019). Members agreed that upon completion of their activities under activity 4.5 the WG will transition their role to industry. A technical advisory group will be formed to support industry with this ongoing work.

In progress
4.4. Strategically consider long-term regulatory conditions to address market failure for aquatic veterinary medicines

NAC continues to work with the department’s AgVet Chemicals Reform group and the APVMA to understand and address the particular needs of aquaculture in the overall AgVet reform process.

NAC has approached APVMA to request that multi-use chemicals be held by NAC on behalf of members. NAC presented a proposal through FRDC for funding through the third round of the department’s Agricultural and Veterinary chemicals assistance grants to access agricultural and veterinary chemicals. An ad hoc grant was awarded to support research into AgVet chemical controls for White Spot Syndrome Disease.

In progress
4.5. Develop guidance documentation to improve industry understanding of regulations and risks of inappropriate veterinary medicine and chemical useThe WG have developed, and update as required, a table summarising aquatic veterinary medicine regulation in each jurisdiction. A pamphlet for industry is being developed to provide guidance on good practice and responsible veterinary medicine.In progress

5. Improving education, training and awareness

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of March 2019)
5.1. Review the Aquatic Animal Health Training Scheme (2013–14)

A review report of the 2013-15 Aquatic Animal Health (AAH) Training Scheme was completed in late 2015 (FRDC Project 2009-315). Positive feedback was received on the report and recommended that the scheme continues.

The AAH training scheme for 2016-2018 is due to finish in June 2019 and funding has been secured to continue the scheme for 2019-2022.

The AAH training scheme aims to improve knowledge and skills in aquatic animal health management for practicing aquatic animal health professionals to support Australia’s fisheries, aquaculture and ornamental fish sectors.

5.2. Assess requirements for a national aquatic animal health curriculum that can be adapted for end-users ranging from vocational training to higher educationTwo FRDC projects were funded:
  • 2013/414: Review of vocational education courses on aquatic animal health available to fisheries and aquaculture sector in Australia.
  • 2014/403: Development of a national aquatic animal health curriculum for delivery by tertiary institutions. This project funded a national workshop that was convened on 13–14 February 2014.
SCAAH is to review FRDC reports 2013/414 and 2014/403 and, if appropriate, next steps to be identified for activity 5.3
5.3. Develop national aquatic animal health curriculums for veterinary and vocational education

Work to develop aquatic animal health curriculums for veterinary and vocational training follows on from the work conducted under activity 5.2. A decision is required as to whether or not further projects should be proposed to address curriculum development. There is a need to better differentiate the focuses of university and vocational training. Currently, there has been no indication from stakeholders that this is an immediate priority.

SCAAH has recommended that activity 5.3 be deferred.

5.4. Develop short-course training material for industry on management of aquatic animal disease incidents (including reporting procedures, collecting samples for laboratory diagnostics and record keeping)

Implementation of this activity was overseen by SCAAH Educational Materials working group (WG). The WG developed a spreadsheet summarising the range of materials available to industry on the management of aquatic animal disease incidents. This document was provided to SCAAH at SCAAH-35 (face to face meeting; 20-21 March 2019). SCAAH members agreed that the development of short course training materials was beyond the current capacity/capability of the WG.

SCAAH has recommended that further progress under activity 5.4 be deferred.

5.5. Develop an AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 Communication StrategyAn AQUAPLAN Communications Strategy was endorsed by SCAAH and AHC in 2014, and will be reviewed annually at the SCAAH face-to-face meeting, and updated as required.Complete