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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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CVM Team Tours Florida Ornamental Fish Facilities

by Jennifer Matysczak, V.M.D., Aquaculture Drugs Team, Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter January/February 2006 Volume XVII, No VI

In March 2006, six representatives from the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) visited the hub of the U.S. tropical ornamental aquaculture industry in Florida’s Hillsborough and Polk counties, as the Center prepares for an expected increase in the number of ornamental fish drugs submitted for review.

The expected increase will be due in part to changes brought about by the Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Health (MUMS) Act of 2004. December 20, 2006, marked the end of the comment period for proposed regulation on indexing, a provision of the MUMS Act. So, now CVM is one step closer to a final regulation that must be in place before sponsors can request the addition of a new animal drug to the index; the final regulation on indexing is due in late 2007.

Indexing and other provisions of the MUMS Act increase the avenues through which safe and effective drugs may become legally available to treat minor species, such as fish. For ornamental fish, the indexing provision may hold the most promise because it provides a way to legally market unapproved new animal drugs for which a complete New Animal Drug Application is not an economically viable option. Indexing will become an option for sponsors after the final rule is published.

CVM is aware of the uniqueness and diversity of aquacultured animals and earlier this year sought to learn more about the ornamental aquaculture industry and ornamental fish medicine through on-site and field training.

The team went to Florida, because—with 130-150 ornamental fish farms—the State accounts at a minimum for 80-85 percent of the ornamental fish produced in the United States (some say it is responsible for 95 percent). Ornamental fish is the largest aquaculture commodity in the State; farm gate value in 2005 was $33.2 million, which reflects a $14 million decline due to hurricane losses.

The CVM group consisted of Dr. Donald Prater, Dr. Thomas Letonja, and Dr. Jennifer Matysczak from the Aquaculture Drugs Team, Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation (ONADE); Mr. Charles Eirkson and Dr. Eric Silberhorn from the Environmental Safety Team, ONADE; and Dr. Thomas Moskal from the Post-Approval Review Team, Office of Surveillance and Compliance.

Dr. Roy Yanong, Associate Professor at the University of Florida, and Dr. Kathleen Hartman, an Aquaculture Epidemiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), Veterinary Services, organized the training and farm tour schedule.

Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory

During its visit, the CVM team first met with Craig Watson, Director of the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory (TAL) in Ruskin, FL. Mr. Watson highlighted the history of TAL and discussed special local-need labels for pesticides that it had obtained and research projects it had conducted, and he described major concerns for the industry.

TAL was created in 1996 with a mission to improve the productivity, profitability, and overall success of Florida’s ornamental fish industry through applied research and extension and graduate education. Research projects at TAL are applied and diverse. They include:

  • Investigations of the effectiveness of sGnRHa and 17-methyltestosterone;
  • Development and effectiveness testing of an autogenous vaccine for Streptococcus iniae in red-tail black sharks;
  • Determination of the fate of feed in ponds;
  • Culture of corals;
  • Examination of the growth of -Tridacna clams under various -conditions;
  • Study of the diet of introduced Asian swamp eels; and
  • Evaluation of various methods in ornamental fish farming of harvesting, grading, and transporting the fish.

Mr. Watson led the CVM team on a tour of TAL’s facilities. The main office building houses a classroom used for extension workshops and a fish disease diagnostic laboratory.

Dr. Yanong oversees the fish health programs at TAL, including the fish disease diagnostic laboratory, as a major component of his extension program. The diagnostic laboratory performs water quality testing and full health diagnostic workups. Bacterial isolates can be identified in-house and isolates’ sensitivities to different antibiotics determined. Tissue samples are sent out for histology and virology when warranted. The diagnostic lab sees cases of fish disease from Florida’s commercial fish producers, wholesalers, and retailers, and also from state agencies; the lab saw 258 cases in 2005. In addition, TAL faculty and staff assist producers at their facilities with production and fish health management issues and provide fish health management workshops and extension publications.

In addition to the main office building, TAL has the “hatchery,” a quarantine building, living quarters for students, and three greenhouses. Within the hatchery, there is a water quality laboratory as well as research project areas that contain tanks and vats holding species, such as clown loaches, being spawned experimentally by TAL.

The greenhouses have been used for coral propagation, Tridacna clam grow-out studies, and various fish research projects.

There are 50 ponds on the 7-acre premises; part of the property was an ornamental fish farm before the university purchased it. The ponds, measuring approximately 30 feet by 70 feet, are within standard production size parameters. Water seeps in from the water table to fill these earthen ponds.

Universityof Florida

Dr. Ruth Francis-Floyd, Program Director of Aquatic Animal Health at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, talked about the aquatic animal health program at the University of Florida. The Fisheries Department has a diagnostic laboratory in Gainesville, FL, that sees approximately 200-250 fish-disease cases each year. The veterinary hospital zoological service sees pet fish cases. Some of the programs that Dr. Francis-Floyd oversees include an aquatic animal medicine residency and continuing education courses, such as Diseases of Warmwater Fish, Advanced Fish Medicine, and Seavet I and II. A University of Florida graduate student, Emily Marecaux, had recently completed a study that examined the effect of salinity on the toxicity of potassium permanganate in sailfin mollies.

Dr. Jeff Hill, an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida in the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences based at TAL, made a presentation to the CVM team in his area of expertise. Dr. Hill’s graduate work focused on the ecology of native and non-native predatory fishes in Florida. Prior to his graduate work, Dr. Hill was an African cichlid producer in Miami, FL. He gave the team a primer on invasion biology, discussed risk assessment and mitigation potential, summarized the relevant Florida regulations, and highlighted non-native species found in Florida.


Larry Brashears, a USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services biologist, with an office at TAL, discussed the options available for farmers and other land owners that encounter bird, reptile, or mammal depredation.

Dr. Kathleen Hartman described the role of USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services in aquatic animal health. Dr. Hartman has assisted Florida koi farms with participation in the USDA-APHIS voluntary Spring Viremia of Carp (SVC) surveillance pro-gram, has played a role in emergency response within the State, and also has helped develop a volunteer program—the Florida Aquatic Animal Health Plan—with Drs. Yanong and Denise Petty. Dr. Hartman has a courtesy faculty appointment with the University of Florida and is also based out of TAL.

Dr. Hartman gave a presentation about bio-security as it relates to the ornamental fish industry. Koi farms are perhaps the most stringent in the industry in terms of biosecurity because of the concern over SVC and koi herpes virus.

Florida Department of Agriculture

Kal Knickerbocker from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), Division of Aquaculture, spoke to the CVM team about Aquaculture Certification and Best Management Practices in Florida. The Best Management Practices cover general pond construction, water effluents, health management, chemical and drug handling, and other -requirements.

Not only has DACS made things easier for the farmers by making the Division of Aquaculture a “one-stop-shop” for permitting, but the aquaculture certification that DACS offers provides each farm with a unique identification number that is useful for tracking fish movements.