Through the AQUA Sightline mobile app, fish farmers begin to implement automated monitoring of their tilapia farms. The app allows them to reduce the risk of threats, achieving high-quality fish that are produced at the best price.
Among the various threats that fish farming faces in Colombia, the most relevant one that demands the greatest efforts to counteract it is the presence of diseases. Since June 7, 2023, the country has been under a declaration of national health emergency, due to the ravages of a bacteria that affects farmed fish. This pathogen doesn´t affect human health, therefore, it is not considered a zoonotic disease.
The country is going through a health crisis and one of the most affected species is tilapia. The Colombian Institute of Agriculture (ICA) responsible for designing and executing strategies to prevent, control, and reduce health, biological and chemical risks for animal and plant species declared the State of Health Emergency in their territory due to the presence of ‘Streptococcus Agalactiae ST7 serotype Ia’. With El Niño’s imminent arrival, there is still no scheduled date to lift the declaration or for this disease outbreak to come to an end.
At the beginning of October, the FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) issued a report that addresses the impact of El Niño on agriculture, livestock, fishing, and aquaculture in Latin America and the Caribbean. One of the specific warnings for aquaculture and fishing is that if the forecast of the precipitation deficit is realized, water levels in rivers, lakes, and ponds will decrease, which will affect the availability of aquatic habitats and may hinder the mobility of fish species, and favor the concentration of pollutants and nutrients, which deteriorates water quality and increases the risk of diseases in aquatic organisms.
Forecasts indicate that dry conditions will persist during the rest of 2023 and the beginning of 2024.
Under these circumstances, the Executive Director of the Colombian Federation of Aquaculturists (Fedeacua), César Pinzón explained to the newspaper La Nación, that El Niño has brought high temperatures which is “the main ‘trigger’ for this bacteria’s proliferation. It is directly linked to temperatures: the temperature increases and the level of risk also increases. In short, “we still can’t tell how long the emergency will last.”
In the Colombian fish farming sector, the department of Huila has been a pioneer for more than a decade. Just in 2022, 39% of the country’s fish production came from this region, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Aquaculture in the Andean country consists of fish farming (97%) and shrimp farming (2.4%).
It was in the Betania dam, located in Huila, where the first records of ‘Streptococcus Agalactiae ST7 serotype Ia’ appeared. Soon there were new cases in other important producing departments such as Atlántico, Magdalena, and Tolima, which had to declare a state of emergency.
Regarding this health crisis, the aquaculture specialist for SIGHTLINE SYSTEMS, Senior Consultant Laura Toro, points out that “when talking about a production of more than 22,000 tons/year in open bodies of water, such as the case of the Betania dam, “sometimes it can be complicated to monitor in detail all the parameters that can lead to a health emergency like the one currently occurring due to the bacteria ‘Streptococcus Agalactiae ST7 serotype Ia’.” And although the risk cannot be eliminated, “there are different mechanisms that can be adopted. Some of them have already been implemented with our clients in Huila in such a way that we can reduce the risk and improve production management: this is through automated monitoring,” explained Dr. Laura.
THERE ARE UNUSUAL MORTALITY AND LOSSES
It’s important to highlight that the unusual mortality rate admissible under normal conditions, that is without emergencies, in productive systems in Colombia from the moment of sowing to the moment of fattening is between 15% and 20% of the animals sown, reported the Technical Secretary of the Huila Fish Chain, Edison Javier Henao Palacios to La Nación. Furthermore, he indicated that this is also stated in the research.
Several factors can ‘trigger’ unusual fish mortality in some regions and bacteria is one of the main ones, along with high temperatures. Despite the hard work of different institutions, rates are currently above what is expected or admissible.
By the time the national health emergency was declared, with the information captured by the epidemiological surveillance system and the calculations made by the national aquaculture program, the unusual mortality rate of tilapia at that time was estimated at 12% (4,554,598) in Huila, 47% (1,621,665) in Atlántico, 37% (10,301) in Magdalena and 10% (50,000) in Tolima, on all the existing and/or referenced framework populations in each of these departments.
On the other hand, Fedeacua reported mortality losses of up to 30% in animals destined for the export market and national production in the Betania dam (Huila); where most of them are grown in Colombia.
By October the panorama had changed: improving for Huila and Tolima but worsening drastically in Atlántico. According to the Director of Fedeacua “in the Atlantic Coast area, the unusual mortality rate is approximately 70%, meaning that only 30% survive: that is alarming; this is due to the high temperatures. This is not the case in Huila and the central region, here we have a different panorama: survival is approximately 80%, meaning that the unusual mortality is between 20% and 25%. “It decreased because the planting density was lowered, and they were quick to vaccinate. So, we can say that here the impact wasn’t as severe.”
‘Streptococcus Agalactiae’ is a gram-positive (gram+) bacteria. It is one of the main bacteria and causes the greatest losses in tilapia production worldwide. Its mortality results from the disease whose main clinical signs include lethargy, erratic swimming, exophthalmia, lesions on the skin, tail, fins, and death, reported the ICA. Two types of vaccines are being implemented in an attempt to counteract it.
The aquaculture specialist and Senior Consultant at SIGHTLINE SYSTEMS considers that it’s difficult to determine with certainty whether this situation could have been prevented, but “what I can say with certainty is that implementing good aquaculture practices, having good traceability of the process, implementation of good quality seed (genetics and origin), that is, everything that biosecurity encompasses, in addition to control of sowing densities, helps to better mitigate this type of situation, since, as I mentioned before, the agent Pathogens will always be present in bodies of water, waiting for some change in conditions to affect the crop. Now, Colombia has been developing a joint vaccination effort with more than 12 million doses that would be important to evaluate in the future to check the degree of effectiveness.”
The Director of Fedeacua also agrees that the most important thing is to strive to improve biosafety: “Colombian fish farming has to work on health issues,” he stated forcefully in the magazine Acuicultores. “We cannot continue to think that the size of our production determines the biosafety and health status of our companies, since bacteria, viruses or anything else that affects the health of farmed animals does not distinguish whether it comes from a small or a great producer. “We have experienced previous health problems in fish and shrimp farming in Colombia, which is one more reason to pay attention to this issue.”
Crops, whether in the agricultural (plants) or livestock (animals) sector, will always be exposed to attacks by pathogenic agents such as “viruses, fungi, bacteria, among others,” stressed the Senior Consultant of SIGHTLINE SYSTEMS, therefore, there will be 3 conditions that interact for the development of an infection, he added. These are:
1. The presence of the pathogenic organism.
2. The inadequate environment causes stress to the fish.
3. Fish that are weak and susceptible to disease.
In summary, “to prevent these three conditions from occurring, it is necessary to take precautionary measures regarding physical-chemical, biological and management factors. This will bring better ‘harmony’ between the body of water-fish and optimal environment for its best development,” he indicated.
However, he stressed the importance of the periodicity of these monitoring or, in other words, how important automated monitoring is: “One thing is to measure the temperature, pH, and turbidity of the water, etc., three times a day and another thing is to “take these measurements every 15 minutes because a lot of things happen in a period of one hour in a fish farming operation.”
Now, what is the impact that AI can have in this panorama?
WHAT COLOMBIA IS DOING
In retrospect, since the 80s, when the first technical companies emerged, to date, fish farming in Colombia has made great progress, not only in terms of production but in the way it has been developed, always seeking excellent safety to the final consumer, but “the country must reinforce biosafety issues,” stressed the Senior Consultant of SIGHTLINE SYSTEMS.
For example, “if we look at South America, Chile, is the second producer of salmonids in the world – followed by Norway – harvesting more than 1,000,000 tons in 2022- who currently have sensors linked to AI – Intelligence Artificial – They have cameras to determine the biomass and anomalies that may be linked to diseases, etc., helping the producer on their daily task to make preventive and non-corrective decisions and to be able to balance the cost-benefit ratio. Today in Colombia with our artificial intelligence mobile app AQUA Sightline through collection, monitoring, and visualization in real time, you can establish the impact of your activities in terms of weight gain, biomass, and others; factors that may be linked to management, diseases, among others”.
With this constant dynamic visualization achieved by the application of the real biomass versus the expected one, “the producer will be able to keep track and know if his crop will really be harvested within the estimated time and with the planned weight and, if “it is not what was expected, they will be able to make decisions to transfer to the slaughter area now and not later on when harvest arrives.”
“Technological advances such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the interconnection of sensors have expanded the possibilities for improvement in fish production. These technologies offer several ways to prevent losses, especially in the management of water quality,” highlighted Laura Toro, Senior Consultant at Sightline.
Finally, AQUA Sightline, in addition to helping to comply with international standards, can automatically receive telemetry produced by sensors in cages to allow real-time monitoring of health and water quality in high-production operations such as IPRS.
Undoubtedly, fish farmers “want high-quality fish, produced at the best price, with consistent export quality. Therefore, alerts and visualizations, based on continuous analytics, begin to support this change in aquaculture companies that seek continuous improvements: the change from being “Reactive” to being “Proactive” in their operations,” she concluded
Caterin Julieth Manchola P.