Nation’s First Fish Certification Program Attracts Veterinarians

The Complete Fish Health Certification Program schools veterinarians in aquaculture, enabling them to inspect fish shipped nationally and internationally. The program, which has grown by leaps and bounds since 1999, also educates fish farmers about the role that doctors play in fish health and the trade of fish.

General practitioners around the nation and the world have expressed interest in the online program, said Michael Collins, DVM, PhD, and Myron Kebus, DVM, the first aquaculture veterinarian in Wisconsin. At deadline, there were 20 professionals enrolled and the numbers increase daily, said Kebus, who is working on a similar program for fish producers.

Veterinary students include professionals who want to expand their practices to include fish, food animal veterinarians, and professionals who want to enter the food and sport fishing arenas. The field of fish health is once again attracting more veterinarians, according to Kebus, though he is not sure what has prompted the renewed interest. “Prior to 25 years ago there were many fish health concerns but veterinary professionals didn’t pay much attention to it. In the last 20 years people have begun to recognize that fish – farm animals and pet fish in homes – are an important species to veterinary medicine."

Collins concurred. “The veterinary profession has been a little remiss in not filling this need. We hope to supply the veterinarians needed.”

The online modules were written by Collins and Kebus, who work for the University of Wisconsin and the state Department of Agriculture, respectively, and include coursework as well as a one and a half day field trip to fish farms. The sixth module or practical exam is light years ahead of other state requirements and has caught the attention of veterinarians from California, Missouri, and Michigan, Kebus said. “We’re so far ahead of the curve that other states haven’t gotten to that level of thinking,” he added.

Graduates, who complete between four and a half and nine hours of continuing education, will protect the purity of the waterways by preventing the spread of seven known viral and bacterial pathogens. Three of those diseases have been identified in the United States in the last five years and are of worldwide concern. They affect the nation’s ability to trade with other countries, Kebus said. “They are critical diseases,” he added.

Prior to the creation of the program, which has been described as the first in the nation, fish inspections were conducted frequently by fish health biologists at fisheries and veterinarians working for the federal government. Over the last five years, Kebus has certified about 70 veterinarians by creating curriculum at different universities.

The online certificate program includes five, one-hour modules and one face-to-face wet lab. Some states do not require the wet lab to obtain certification as a fish health veterinarian, but Wisconsin does, Collins said. State veterinarians can field inquiries about local requirements. The online program was launched on March 6 and currently has six students enrolled, Collins estimated. It was funded by the United States Department of Food and Agriculture. A feature story on the program is expected to run in the Aquaculture Health magazine soon.