UK centre designated as global reference laboratory to tackle aquatic animal disease

4 June 2019

UK centre designated as global reference laboratory to tackle aquatic animal disease

The UK’s science expertise and international leadership in identifying and managing new diseases that affect the farming of seafood, or aquaculture, has been recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (Cefas) has been designated by the OIE as the Collaborating Centre for Emerging Aquatic Animal Disease (EAAD), building on Cefas’ expertise in disease detection and diagnosis, and its strong international partnerships with other expert centres. 

The Collaborating Centre will play a central role in achieving effective aquatic animal disease control in developing countries where aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food sectors and a critical component of food and income for those nations. The Centre supports the aim of securing sustainable production from this sector in coming decades, with particular focus on strengthening global food security and prevention of devastating economic and social impacts associated with disease, resulting in multi-billion $ losses world-wide.

Global aquaculture production has increased rapidly in recent decades to meet growing consumer demand for seafood, with aquaculture now exceeding wild capture fisheries as a source of aquatic animal protein and estimated to double to meet global need by 2050.

A network of associate laboratories based in major aquaculture producing regions (China, Thailand, India, South Africa, North and South America) as well as the two European Reference Laboratories (EURL) for Fish and Crustacean Diseases (DTU, Denmark) and for Mollusc Diseases (Ifremer, France) will partner with Cefas to focus on emerging disease issues.  A key objective of the network is to harmonise and exchange information and expertise to improve emerging disease surveillance globally and to mitigate the negative effects of disease in this rapidly expanding sector.

Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner said:

“With demand for farmed fish set to grow globally over the coming decades, it is more important than ever that we combat the threat of disease.

“By working together, we can bolster food security, protect public and animal health and ensure sustainable production. I am proud to see the UK at the very heart of this united effort and the World Organisation for Animal Health’s recognition of Cefas as a Collaborating Centre is an excellent example of Britain’s world-leading role in science.”

Professor Stephen Feist, Head of Collaborating Centre said:

“The international consortia of labs will provide a unique mechanism to tackle emerging disease threats in aquaculture and fisheries globally, ensuring rapid detection, sharing of knowledge and expertise in mitigating their effects. Cefas’ leading capability in pathogen identification, diagnostics, pathology and disease management will ensure that new threats are rapidly identified and notified to appropriate authorities to assist control.”

The Collaborating Centre draws upon the expertise of some 90 Cefas scientists specialising in fish, mollusc and crustacean health, based at Cefas’ Weymouth Laboratory and is funded by Defra. It fits within the International Centre of Excellence for Aquatic Animal Health at Cefas.


1.The official designation has been made at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) World Assembly of Delegates meeting at OIE HQ in Paris 26-31st May.

2.The OIE Collaborating Centre in Emerging Aquatic Animal Diseases website can be found here (

3. A short animation can be found here (

4. Picture caption:  Cefas scientists studying shrimp disease during an emergency harvest in Thailand.