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Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia

Volume 447: debated on Monday 12 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what contingency plans his Department has put in place to deal with outbreaks of viral haemorrhagic septicaemia in live fish in the UK; (75871)

(2) what assessment he has made of the (a) causes and (b) sources of viral haemorrhagic septicaemia in farmed trout in the UK;

(3) what discussions his Department has had with key stakeholders on compensating fish farmers for the compulsory slaughter of stock in the event of an outbreak of (a) viral haemorrhagic septicaemia and (b) other fatal diseases amongst farmed fish.

[holding answer 8 June 2006]: On 26 May, Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (VHS) was confirmed in samples of fish taken from a trout farm in the River Ouse catchment area of North Yorkshire. VHS is a notifiable disease and the Department has a contingency plan in place for dealing with outbreaks of VHS and other serious fish diseases.

In line with these arrangements, Fish Health Inspectors from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), under Defra's direction, immediately formed a National Control Centre (NCC) to co-ordinate action to manage the outbreak with other partners, including the Environment Agency. The NCC is based at the CEFAS laboratory in Weymouth.

Fish from the affected farm were slaughtered humanely with full co-operation from the farm owners. The fish have been disposed of in accordance with animal by-products legislation.

Defra has placed restrictions on the movement of fish into and out of the Ouse catchment area, and specifically on all farms in that area.

The cause of the VHS outbreak has not been identified, but extensive epidemiological investigations are underway to try and determine the source. A comprehensive sampling programme is also taking place, targeting fish farms and wild sites in the Ouse catchment as well as other possible contacts. Results are expected within the next 14 days. No further disease cases have been identified by recent sampling and inspections.

Stakeholders make regular representations to the Department about compensating fish farmers for the compulsory slaughter of stock due to an outbreak of a serious fish disease. We have made it clear that it is not our policy to make compensation available in these circumstances. However, EU legislation does allow fish from an infected site to be on-grown for marketing, provided they do not display any clinical signs of disease.

VHS has no implications for human health. The VHS virus cannot grow or replicate at human body temperatures.