Hot topics tackled at OATA conference

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Over 100 of the aquatic industry's leading importers, wholesalers and retailers attended the second Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) conference at the Coppid Beech Hotel in Bracknell last month to find out about the latest issues affecting the trade.

The two-day event which was organised by OATA and sponsored by a number of companies, including Aquatic Solutions, Tetra and Underworld, featured a number of international expert speakers and covered most of the key areas affecting the trade at the moment, as well as several that are likely to be important in the near future.

Four key themes were covered during the conference: choice of suppliers, emerging diseases, import legislation and animal welfare.

Suppliers put their case

The first session opened with a series of lectures from suppliers and industry experts from the Czech Republic, Brazil and Sri Lanka, who put their cases forward to explain why we should buy our fish from them, rather than other countries.

Jaroslav Vojta of Metop Aquarium Ltd, Czech Republic, told delegates that despite facing stiff competition from Singapore, Thailand and Brazil, they had the benefits of offering better quality fish that had been bred and grown-on in aquaria and were therefore very easy to acclimatise.

He explained that Czech breeders were constantly importing new and rare species of fish, especially Malawian and Tanganyikan cichlids, to act as future brood stock and that they were actively working to reduce the numbers of hybrids exported. Vojta also explained that since entering the EU in May 2004, it's never been easier to import fish from the Czech Republic.

Srilal Samarasekara, of well-known Sri-Lankan supplier Orna Fish, gave an interesting insight into the country and the general trends seen in the commercial production of aquarium fishes there.

Samarasekara explained that although the bulk of their business was in producing bread-and-butter species like guppies, they were also branching out into the production of rare endemic fishes, including Devario pathirana, Rasbora vaterifloris, Puntius cummingi and P. titteya and Malputta kretseri. These species have previously been banned from export or placed under strict export controls.

Although Samarasekara did not focus on benefits himself, he told delegates that the country was actively trying to improve the quality of its fish by back-crossing guppies to the wild type and adding new varieties.

Some of the Sri-Lanka production techniques, such as increasing packing densities and attempting to harden fishes, did attract criticism from the audience.

Brazil, as a supplier of wild caught fishes, had a completely different perspective on the debate. Paulo Petry, a Brazilian ichthyologist who has worked on the sustainability of the Amazonian fisheries for many years, told delegates that in most cases, where properly managed, the fisheries were sustainable and proved a very important part of the local economy.

Without the fishery, said Petry, the locals could be forced to seek their income from much more damaging forms of business, such as mining or felling. Petry said that for the majority of commonly sold species, the fishing intensity was low and the species quickly recovered.

Emerging diseases discussed

The first day was closed with a series of lectures from a number of the world's top authorities on fish diseases about new and emerging diseases, including Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) in carp and ranaviruses that may spread to amphibians via fish.

Barry Hill, Chief Advisor for Fish and Shellfish Health at CEFAS and Vice President of the Aquatic Animals Health Standards Commission of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), highlighted the threat the trade faces from such diseases.

Keith Way, Senior Virolgist with CEFAS and an authority on KHV, gave an update on the number of KHV outbreaks and outlined recent developments in KHV research to the delegates.

Israel's top Koi producer, Magnoy Ltd, was represented by Health and Quality Assurance Manager Mordi Haemi, who summarised how Israel was working to fight the spread of KHV and produce Koi which aren't susceptible to the disease by exposing them to the virus.

Ralf Knussel of the Division of Aquaculture at the University of Stellenbosch spoke about a different technique they are using successfully to control the spread of the diseases through increasing the levels of biosecurity.

Nigel Cohen of the Koi Biosecurity Institute closed the emerging diseases session by explaining the benefits of its Koi Biosecurity Register. A UK-based online database which aims to provide a way of determining which suppliers are investing the most effort into increasing their biosecurity, and hopefully, which have the least likelihood of supplying KHV-infected fish.

Wholesale and import issues

The wholesale side of the trade was also covered with a session on imports, which looked at the role of the Animal Reception Centre (ARC) at Heathrow; a new electronic information system for tracing animal movements; the way CITES legislation covers the import of fish into the UK, and the current problems associated with fish health certification.

Tony Poole, Portal Animal Health Officer with the Defra's State Veterinary Service, explained how a new online system, TRACES, would make it easier for the trade and the authorities to trace the movements of imports through the supply chain.

Rob Quest, Manager of the ARC at Heathrow Airport spoke about the intended role of the facility. Quest also explained the problems they regularly faced when dealing with fish imports to make it clear to the trade that if their suppliers abroad didn't stick to the guidelines on packing and labelling livestock, delays were inevitable.

John Hounslow of the the licensing section at CITES in Bristol and the Global Wildlife Trade Division of Defra, closed the session by explaining what was needed when importing any fish listed under CITES.

The difficult subject of fish health certificates also cropped up, with Alasdair Scott, Senior Fish Health Inspector at CEFAS in Weymouth explaining why not a single form has been correctly submitted since they were initially introduced.

While the forms were too complicated to explain fully during Scott's lecture, he did explain that work was already underway to produce a revised version that should prove considerably easier to complete.

As with a number of other speakers, he also emphasised the potential benefits that an electronic system, with form validation features, could offer the industry.

Closing thoughts

The conference was closed with a lively session "What do they want from us?" which discussed the draft Animal Welfare Bill, the demands of consumers according to Gardening Which? magazine, the welfare aspects of the ornamental fish trade and details on environment health policy.

Defra's Head of Animal Policy for the Animal Welfare Bill, Henry Hoppe, explained what the draft bill was setting out to achieve and how it would be enforced.

Dr James Kirkwood of the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) and Scientific Director for the Universities Federation, gave an interesting insight into the welfare aspects of the aquatic trade.

Besides a prestigious line-up of industry experts, the conference also included two keynote speakers. Heiko Bleher, the well-known ichthyological explorer, gave a fascinating account of his recent discoveries in Brazil and entertained the delegates with his many slides of new fish he has discovered recently, including various Leporinus, new forms of Discus, and rare L-numbers and Retroculus from Brazil's Rio Iriri.

He also mentioned publicly for the first time that he would be publishing a 900-page monography on Discus.

PPM spoke to Bleher about this work in January 2004 and he explained that the publication was a collaboration with well-known molecular biologist Axel Meyer from the University of Konstanz.

Bleher claims that Meyer's recent DNA support backs up his findings from field work, to produce a new phylogeny which splits the genus into three species: Symphysodon aequifasciata, S. haraldi and S. discus.

Helmut Debelius, the famous marine fishkeeper, diver and author, also spoke about his experiences in diving around the world and his discovery of many new species of fish and invertebrate.

The third OATA conference is currently planned for November 2006. For more details contact the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association on 08700 434013 or email [email protected]

This new story was first published in the December 2004 issue of the trade magazine Pet Product Marketing.