Aquatic animal health

The sea and aquatic animals play a key role in achieving a more prosperous and secure world, and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (WOAH, 2021). They are fundamental for our existence and the health of our planet, so it’s critical that we look after it properly and save it.

Today, human consumption of aquatic animal products is greater than ever before. Aquatic animals are the main source of protein for billions of people worldwide, and demand is expected to increase. Moreover, improvement of aquatic animal health and welfare will consequently impact sustainable economic growth, poverty alleviation, ending hunger and food security.

Unfortunately, to date, its health is severely compromised by emerging diseases caused by risk factors such as climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity and intensive and illegal fishing. All those things have damaged it to such an extent that its functionality, productivity and also our existence, and that of millions of species, is compromised.

This is why it became necessary to identify sentinel animals of the sea to indicate its state of health: cetaceans. The latter are excellent indicators of long-term environmental changes, as many species are long-lived, live in coastal areas, are at the top of the food chain and possess a considerable amount of blubber in which chemical and toxic substances of anthropogenic origin accumulate. They also play a central role in the detection of possible terrestrial pathogens in the marine environment, thus becoming important indicators for public health issues as well.

In the current context, however, cetaceans are particularly vulnerable and threatened by intense and ever-increasing anthropogenic pressure.The Mediterranean basin is contaminated by toxic chemicals (pesticides, heavy metals) that by accumulating within individual organisms (bioaccumulation) and consequently becoming part of the marine food chain, are dangerous for the whole aquatic population. Moreover, increasing tourist pressure, excessive urbanisation of coastlines, overfishing and global change, contribute to alter the balance of our sea, making it inhospitable to sensitive species such as cetaceans.

Last but not least, pollution by marine litter (macro- and micro-plastics) is a further threat.
These threats are shared by and require coordinated actions from the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) and its Members, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, to protect and improve aquatic animal health worldwide and promote a healthy ecosystem.As reiterated during the 2022 Ocean Conference in Lisbon, saving our ocean must remain a priority, because marine biodiversity is critical to ensure the health of our planet.
Veterinarians, aquatic animal health professionals and other parties, play a crucial role in making sure the production of aquatic animals does not jeopardise their health or welfare and, that they are safe for human consumption and appropriately certified to meet international trade requirements.

As a result, WOAH acknowledges the need to build more sustainable aquatic animal health systems and launched its first Aquatic Animal Health Strategy in May 2021 to improve aquatic animal health and welfare worldwide.

The role of STOR-Remesa

    • Follow the OIE Aquatic Animal Health Strategy 2021–2025 and apply its procedures through STC members.

    • Guide and support the improvement of aquatic animal health and welfare in the Mediterranean basin.

    • Support and follow the implementation of standards for aquatic animal health and welfare and, through STOR-STC members, identify barriers that interfere with implementation of these standards.

    • Improve experience and professionalism of REMESA member countries’ scientists, researchers, veterinarians, and aquatic animal health professionals, through periodical courses, training and workshops.