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Emerging pathogens in Chilean fish farms

NFR/Havbruk project 224874

Project leader:
Torstein Tengs

Between 2007 and 2009, the Chilean fish farming industry was decimated by outbreaks of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) in farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). ISA is caused by the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAV), a virus that until then had not been detected in Chilean Atlantic salmon farms. It led to an overall reduction in salmon production of approximately 50%, 15 000 people lost their jobs and the loss of revenue has been estimated to be close to US$ billion. How ISAV was introduced into the Chilean fish farms has been a topic of heated debate since.

Atlantic salmon is not a natural species in the Pacific Ocean, and it might not be surprising that there are issues with infectious agents when operating large scale fish farms in open seawater locations along the Chilean coastline. Multiple factors in today’s modern society lead to an increase in both the rate of dispersal for known pathogens and the potential emergence of novel diseases caused by new or yet unknown infectious agents. Humans, animals, microorganisms, plants, fungi – whether intentionally or not – can readily spread to every corner of the world with airplanes, boats or by any other means of motorized transportation. There is also extensive farming and rearing of livestock throughout the world, creating meso/macrocosmic environments where the likelihood of potentially harmful pathogens emerging may be increased. Environmental changes lead to shifts in habitats and affect geographic distribution of species and even if import/export of biological material is subjected to the most rigorous quality controls and risk assessments, there is always the possibility that such activities also unwillingly facilitate the spread of harmful agents. In such a context, it is very important to be aware of both completely novel pathogens as well as the appearance of known pathogens in a new setting.

Fish farming in Norway is dominated by Atlantic salmon and since the first commercial farms started in the 1970s, the health of the fish as well as the sustainability of the industry has been an important part of the research activity at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI). NVI has been involved in the discovery of several emerging diseases throughout the years and also has extensive expertise in monitoring and diagnosing know fish diseases, such as ISA, pancreatic disease (PD), viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), cardiomyopathy syndrome (CMS), heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), bacterial infections etc. Due to the presence of diseases like ISA, PD, HSMI and CMS, there is currently no import of salmonid fish eggs (ovas) to Chile from Norway.

With the recent discovery of viral agents associated with CMS and HSMI by the project manager and colleagues, we believe that both the Norwegian and the Chilean fish farming industry can benefit from a collaboration where these two disease and their associated viruses are studied in more detail. In general, we would like to share our knowledge about emerging infectious diseases in North Atlantic aquaculture with colleagues from Chilean institutions in order to ensure a sustainable and healthy fish farming industry in both countries.


  • Universidad Austral de Chile

Duration: 01.01.2013 - 31.12.2013


Tengs Torstein