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 (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.

AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 finished in June 2019. However, a number of its activities are ongoing. The status of AQUAPLAN’s 24 activities is provided in the tables below (current at September 2019). A formal review of AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 will be undertaken by the department in close collaboration with SCAAH.

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 September 2019)
1.1. Develop sector-specific biosecurity plan templates and guidance documents

The Aquaculture Farm Biosecurity Plan – generic guidelines and template were published on the Department of Agriculture’s (the department) website in 2016.

National Biosecurity Plan guidelines were developed for the land-based abalone, oyster hatchery and barramundi industries. These guidelines were endorsed by SCAAH and AHC, and are available on the department’s website.

The Australia Prawn Farmers Association has developed a National Biosecurity Plan Guideline for the Australian prawn industry. The final draft plan is available by request from the department’s website.

The development of two additional sector-specific plans (for the native freshwater finfish and marine sea cage sectors) commenced in September 2019.

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

The National Aquaculture Industry Biosecurity Survey was completed in late 2018 and the final report was received in March 2019. One hundred and twenty two farm owners and managers from the abalone, barramundi, edible oyster, pearl oyster, prawn, salmonid, southern bluefin tuna and yellowtail kingfish sectors were surveyed.

The survey sought to investigate the level of biosecurity knowledge and practices used across each sector; and identify whether each sector required support to develop and implement on-farm biosecurity plans and the most appropriate support approaches to meet those needs.

Results indicated that all eight sectors wanted help to develop and implement on-farm biosecurity plans. The types of assistance sought varied according to the individual farms and sectors. However, a number of common key activities and assistance measures were identified.

Farmers indicated they would like assistance in writing, reviewing and improving on-farm biosecurity plans specific to their property or business, as well as biosecurity training workshops tailored to their specific sector. Two programs will be implemented during phase 2 of the project:

  • A series of sector-specific biosecurity plan writing and/or reviewing workshops for industry.
  • An aquaculture farm biosecurity plan auditor training course will be provided for jurisdictional officers. Jurisdictional officers will then train industry members in how to perform an internal audit of their on-farm biosecurity plans. The internal auditing process can be used by farmers to improve their biosecurity plans.
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 September 2019)
2.1. Implement an agreed work plan to develop industry–government emergency aquatic animal disease response arrangements (the Aquatic Deed)

The main focus for 2019 was to address all the prospective party comments provided in 2018 and early 2019, in order to produce a final draft Aquatic Deed for consideration by all prospective parties.

This project is now moving into the final stages of negotiations among prospective parties (i.e. aquatic industries and governments).

Once these negotiations conclude, the next steps will be for all prospective parties to evaluate the Aquatic Deed and to decide whether they wish to ratify.

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 1-6 are complete; 7 is ongoing. SCAAH members were provided with a questionnaire in June 2018 seeking information on recent and current exercises in each jurisdiction.

A gap analysis has been performed and a final report will be developed. 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.

A proposal will be provided to Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) to seek funding for a national exercise.

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. Recruitment for the NBRT is complete. Activities to support and develop the skills and knowledge of members are ongoing.


3. Enhancing surveillance and diagnostic services

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

Activity 3.1 seeks to review Australia’s current passive surveillance system and reporting pathways for aquatic animal diseases to identify any weaknesses, particularly barriers to reporting, and opportunities to strengthen the system.

A social science survey was undertaken in late 2018 to identify any weaknesses and areas for potential improvement in Australia’s current passive surveillance system for aquatic animal diseases. The Australian abalone, barramundi and yellowtail kingfish sectors were the focus of the survey. Respondents were derived from all aspects of the passive surveillance system; including farm owners and managers, processors, government laboratory staff, government and private veterinarians and aquatic animal health consultants, biosecurity officers and policy makers.

The draft report was provided to the department in April 2019. Final comments on the draft final report are to be addressed by the end of 2019. The working group will reconvene to assess the report findings and plan next steps.

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 oversees implementation of this activity. It aims to undertake industry-specific benchmarking for aquaculture health and production parameters as an aid to individual members of the industry.

The abalone, barramundi, southern bluefin tuna and Murray cod industries were identified as potential model industries for the project. The project leader 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.

A pilot data collection and visualisation tool has been created by key members of the project team. This tool has been shown to members of the barramundi and abalone industry and has been warmly received.

The project will be funded through the FRDC Aquatic Animal Health and Biosecurity Subprogram

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 Diagnostic Test Validation 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. Manuscripts will be submitted for both projects and will be put forward for consideration in the OIE Manual of diagnostic tests for aquatic animals (Aquatic Manual). 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

Neptune is Australia’s aquatic animal health information management system. It includes an extensive database of all published records of significant aquatic animal disease incidents in Australia, and a growing digitised histopathological image collection to aid in diagnostics and training. The Australian Biosecurity Intelligence Network (ABIN) ceased its hosting duties in 2014. Consequently, the CSIRO agreed to host Neptune from June 2015.

The department and CSIRO-AAHL agreed on a 2-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.

This project commenced in July 2017. A scoping study has been completed and specific objectives and timelines agreed. CSIRO-AAHL recruited an IT specialist to redevelop the Neptune site on the CSIRO’s systems and to manage the scanning of additional histopathological slides onto Neptune.

A prototype of the Neptune site was developed on CSIRO systems. CSIRO-AAHL and the department evaluated the Beta 1 prototype and a Beta 2 version was subsequently developed.

CSIRO-AAHL recovered the annotations for each of existing digitalised slides and addressed the feedback provided by the department.

CSIRO-AAHL delivered the initial production build in June 2019. The final version was published following user acceptance testing. Access the Neptune website via:

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

3.8. Describe existing components of Australia’s aquatic animal disease diagnosis network to identify interactions, responsibilities and performance measures

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

Specific 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.
  • Australian laboratory proficiency testing program for aquatic animal diseases (2017-2023): The 2013-2015 proficiency testing program was reviewed in 2015-16. Following the success of this program, the department provided funding for the program until 2023 (total of six rounds). The third round of proficiency testing samples were dispatched to participating laboratories in May 2019.
  • Aquatic animal health technical forum and training workshops (AAHTF): The AHHTF was established in 2008 (FRDC Project 2008/357); with the inaugural meeting held in Geelong, South Australia in March 2010 (FRDC Project 2009/315.2). Workshops were held in SA in 2013, NSW in 2014, Qld in 2015 (FRDC Project 2012/002) and Tasmania in 2018 (FRDC Project 2018/144). The next AAHTF will be held in Townsville, Qld in June 2020.
  • Aquatic Slide of the Quarter: Ian Anderson at Biosecurity Queensland is the program coordinator. The program is ongoing. SCAAH to determine whether any further development is required.
  • Laboratories for Emergency Animal Disease Diagnosis and Response (LEADDR): Inclusion of aquatic animal diagnostic laboratories in the LEADDR network. OsHV-1, WSSV and Megalocytivirus molecular tests included in the network quality control testing.
  • Aquatic animal diseases significant to Australia identification field guide: see activity 3.2.

Neptune: see activity 3.7.


In progress

4. Improving availability of appropriate veterinary medicines

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of September 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.

Since 2014, over 15 veterinary medicines have been progressed to a minor use permit with the Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which include new chemicals (e.g. 2-Phenoxyethanol, praziquantel), renewed permits (e.g. Benzocaine, hypochlorite) and amended permits to allow for different use (e.g. Epinephrine). The WG have also assisted industry with access issues such as the Formalin minor use permit.

A list of registered, permitted, soon to expire and off-label products requiring progress towards an APVMA application are regularly discussed and updated through the WG. The WG last met via teleconference in June 2019 and provided an update on their status at SCAAH-36 (July 2019). The WG’s terms of reference have been achieved. The WG will thus disband and a SCAAH Aquatic Veterinary Medicines technical advisory group will be established to support industry.

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

NAC, in consultation with its members, has agreed to hold chemical and veterinary permits on behalf of aquaculture industries. 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.

Review of aquatic veterinary medicine regulations was undertaken.

4.5. Develop guidance documentation to improve industry understanding of regulations and risks of inappropriate veterinary medicine and chemical use

The WG provided assistance to SafeFish to develop a pamphlet about Aqui-S (anaesthetic) and appropriate aquatic veterinary medicine use. This pamphlet was subsequently distributed to fisheries and aquaculture industries around Australia.

A generic pamphlet for industry is being developed to provide guidance on good practice and responsible veterinary medicine use.
In progress

5. Improving education, training and awareness

ActivityDescriptionStatus (as of September 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. It was reviewed annually at the SCAAH face-to-face meeting, and updated as required.Complete
Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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