Bio Security at Avenue Fisheries

DR PAULA REYNOLDS - LINCOLNSHIRE FISH HEALTH LABORATORIES & RESEARCH CENTRE

I have visited Avenue Fisheries run by Steven and Pam Field many times to carry to bio-security inspections , and whilst most visits are pre-arranged , I have been known to arrive unannounced with my clip board, although in truth I have yet to find them unprepared . The kettle goes on and discussion about everything koi related occupies the first half an hour of my visit and then I am into my biosecure gear and heading first for the quarantine area . My clip board holds several pages of boxes to tick and it will surprise koi-keepers that one of the important items at all biosecure premises whether it is a koi farm or a retail outlet are the drains. Of course, I do not have plumbing qualifications although I have experienced some dreadful aquatic systems during the years I have worked in fish disease. I would never dare to comment on Steven’s pipe work, as this is a more specialised area than is often realised. It is fact that the healthiest koi live in properly designed and constructed ponds. Pumps and filters are often randomly selected and installed in an unknown water volume and such ponds fail to create the biological conditions in which koi thrive. There are scientific principles that have to be understood and fortunately, Steven and his team have years of experience. In a biosecure site, my focus is in on how wastewater leaves every sink, basin, tank, or pond. Water can carry disease into a lake or river to infect other fish and may be spread even further. I often select fish to examine in the quarantine area and occasionally from those on display. No fish has to be perfect in every respect but koi must be healthy to be on display and offered for sale.

What is Bio-security?
Bio-security is the application of measures to prevent the introduction and spread of disease in any location where it might occur. Circumstances can differ considerably at each site and that means that the methods and practises in use have to be adapted to the severity of each risk factor. For example, standards vary in koi producing farms and some farms buy in koi varieties they cannot breed adding to the disease risks. There is a degree of control in place in Japan in respect of some but not all diseases and they can slip through the net including Koi Herpesvirus (KHV). In all aquatic premises, there are cross-infective risks that can be removed or lowered by safer practises. Having the space to quarantine koi apart from those on sale can be the deciding factor as to whether or not bio-security is even possible in some koi outlets. Steven and Pam are fortunate to have large quarantine facilities and can keep koi in quarantine far longer than is actually required.

Avenue History
Avenue fisheries originated in Sandy Bedfordshire making the move to Wyboston in 1989 when bigger premises were needed. Steven grew up with koi and learned the art and science of being a koi dealer from his father long before he took over the business in 1979 that he and Pam now run. They are well supported by Steven’s mum Gwenda and Mark who has been part of the team for the last 15 years. Greg is from the next generation of the Field family and has been involved in the business for the past 5 years. The same two bricklayers Andy and Russ have been constructing ponds for Avenue Fisheries for 22 years and the ever-increasing volume of pond construction work has created the need to employ two additional full time staff. Shaun is the most recent member of the team and James who came to Avenue Fisheries 5 years ago on work experience is now employed part time. For the last 28 years, they have used the same electrician Bill who is himself a keen koi keeper. Bill has also undertaken much of their pond maintenance contract work exclusively for Avenue fisheries. John is the team’s fibreglass laminator working full time on site making bottom drains, vortexes, and other pond plumbing essentials. A good business flourishes on teamwork and they do have the support of reliable staff. Avenue Fisheries have customers all over the UK and this loyalty is due to the reassurance that the koi on sale are healthy. Steven and Pam's dedication to both their koi and their customers’ may be why they were voted Koi dealer of the year in 2014 by readers of Koi Carp Magazine, although their friendly and helpful service also has a lot to do with it.

The Bio security Protocol
My bio-security protocol lists the numerous requirements that raise standards in all aspects of koi management and the Avenue team follow it to the letter. It is a dealer’s job to settle his koi after import then examine them for external or ecto-parasites and other health problems and treat if necessary. Heat ramping is then carried out and this process is often misunderstood. There is no guarantee that any viral or other serious disease will emerge during the chilling and heating cycles that the koi are subjected during heat ramping. However, there is one indisputable fact that has emerged from research .The more heat ramping cycles any koi has been through the less likely that fish is to later test positive as a carrier of Herpesvirus (KHV) or another serious disease. It must be better for any koi keeper if any latent disease makes an appearance during the period of dealer quarantine rather than later in their pond.

Information equals accountability
Steven and Pam have to email my office with the details of all the koi they import and then provide regular updates as the fish progress through quarantine. I also need to know the tanks and ponds in which the koi are later moved into when ready for sale .This information is held on a database along with a site plan their premises . We need the layout of the quarantine and sales areas in all biosecure premises. During a visit, I make sure that the records link up with the batches of koi in quarantine and the date for its completion is correct. Throughout the isolation period dealers log information about the health of their Koi on import and also any treatments carried out and why these were needed. Steven and Pam sell a lot of koi so providing details is no small task and the purpose of this information is twofold. It makes disease traceable so if several dealers experience the same problem from a particular farm, this can be reported to Japan, and it makes Avenue Fisheries accountable for the health of every single koi they sell.

Steven and Pam are used to my endless quest for information about the way they handle their koi and support their customers and here is a list of their answers to some of my questions:-

Do your customers realise bio security helps to prevent all disease not just Koi Herpesvirus (KHV)?
Most of our long-term customers appreciate the numerous advantages of bio-security. Some new customers seem completely unaware of any disease risk in koi - so we have to enlighten them as part of our "sales pitch”.

Do you find your customer base comprises of well-informed koi keepers who know how to care for their fish, or do many need a lot of guidance?
Being established for 40 years, we have many longstanding customers who require very little if any guidance. We also gain a number of new very keen koi keepers every year who try to get as much information as possible about their new hobby. Overall, I would say we have a 60/40 split between experienced to new customers.

What task is the most difficult to carry out and get it right every time to ensure that your bio security level is maintained.
The most awkward aspect for us is when new fish are imported from a number of different breeders on the same shipment. This means we have to have sufficient staff on the premises no matter what time the flight arrives to ensure no cross contamination occurs between any of the koi farms. This takes a long time, as your hygiene precautions are very strict for the obvious reason that every newly imported fish is a risk factor. In addition, all koi are inspected and fish over 12" are individually photographed.

You build many koi ponds and I am interested to know if customers are willing to be guided by your experience or are there many who insist on a less than adequate filter for the size of the pond or the number of koi they wish to stock? Do most hobbyists realise that healthy koi live in pond designed specifically for koi not goldfish and do you ever refuse to build a pond that you do not feel is a safe home for koi?
We have very few customers with goldfish ponds trying to be koi ponds and if we come across the problem, we persuade them to enlarge or upgrade their ponds if possible. As we have a long list of customers who want a pond constructed and we build to our specifications, we are able to be selective with the projects we undertake. Customers do appreciate our guidance and we do of course tailor the aesthetic aspect of every pond to the customer’s requirements after all it is a garden feature as well as a home for koi.

How do you deal with customers who want a mixed species pond when there are dietary differences and the issue of chemical treatment to be overcome?
We always advise our customers to maintain a koi only pond and explain this is particularly relevant with species such as sturgeon, orfe, or rudd whose dietary requirements and chemical tolerances differ from koi.

When new koi arrive from Japan, they need to settle after their long journey so do you use salt or do you do nothing for a period and see how the fish are behaving?
We do not use salt as a matter of course on newly imported fish. However, having imported from the same breeders for many years from experience we know that certain breeders’ fish will settle far better if kept in salt with the levels being gradually reduced over our normal 8-week minimum quarantine period.

What aspect of bio-security is the most time consuming?
No single aspect of bio-security is that time consuming but all the elements together require time and a lot of attention. The most difficult part for us is chilling the water in summer and conversely heating in the winter. Having to deliberately lower the temperature of large water volumes is a relatively expensive practise as is heating it up again. However, knowing our koi are as healthy as possible at the end of the process makes the cost and the effort well worthwhile.

After the koi have settled, do you examine several from each farm to see if they have parasites or is it your practise to treat them irrespective due to the numerous koi you have to deal with?
We only treat fish for parasites after taking mucus samples from several fish within the same pond. Parasite levels on imported fish from Japan seem to us to be much lower in the last few years and we now never see fish lice or anchor worm. If a treatment is necessary this may be as a result of our heat ramping policy as we always do 4 heat and chill cycles which might trigger white spot that we then treat with formalin and malachite green and this is another reason for only using salt when it is really necessary.

What has changed the most in koi-keeping since you became a Koi dealer?
When we first became koi dealers in 1975, we thought we were very good at quarantine as we kept fish for 7 days before allowing them to be sold. In those days, we only had a sales area and no separate quarantine facilities and had never heard of bio-security. Now health issues that can arise in koi we see as our responsibility as dealers to control and that is why we adhere to your bio security protocol. It is now vital that we have separate quarantine area away from the ponds in which we display koi for sale. In addition, we have installed far better filtration systems and greater water volumes to support the welfare of the koi in both the quarantine and sales area.

Do you find koi keeping is as popular as it has ever been and how do you assess this?
The serious koi keeper is as enthusiastic as ever and better quality small Koi are gaining more popularity. We notice there are slightly fewer newcomers to the hobby that are in the 20-30 age group and maybe there are less people who can afford a house with a garden that is a good size for a koi pond.  

I realise that having so many koi in biosecure quarantine means customers cannot see them and this must take some explaining - how do you cope with this?
Due to bio-security, there are limited opportunities in which we can take a customer into our quarantine facilities and then we have to accompany everyone but this is actually an advantage for us. We have many valuable koi in our quarantine area and these can be divided into two categories. Koi still undergoing quarantine cannot be disturbed and they are never netted or bowled for any customer. However , in another sector we also have koi that have been quarantined but could wait 12 months or longer for a vacancy in a pond in the sales area and it is usually these fish that a customer wants to see having spotted a particular koi from our photographs . Customers who are discerning about koi know how our system works so this potential snag is well organised.

A customer who has purchased koi from other koi- keepers and several outlets comes to you for help when a problem develops in his pond. How does being biosecure affect the way in which you might help this type of customer?
We always try to give the best advice we can and make a point of not commenting on other koi dealers, as it is impossible to be fully aware what goes on in any pond. If a customer needs a pond visit, we have to charge for this service and being heavily committed to bio security and pond construction time is our biggest problem. We cannot hospitalise fish for anyone but bio-security allows us a separate room specifically for the examination of customers fish with a microscope to view mucus smears when parasites are suspected . We also have water-testing equipment and can topically treat an injury and our separate oxygen facility means we can hygienically re-inflate the fish bag for the trip home. As you are aware when a health problem is serious, we try to encourage koi keepers to contact you at LFH Laboratories.

Do you think most of your customers buy koi as pets or is a large proportion of the koi you sell to be entered into koi shows and how would you apportion this ?
We have customers who show their fish and we select and import better quality koi in Japan especially for those hobbyists who enjoy the highly competitive side of the hobby and this accounts for around 5 -10% of our koi sales . When a koi really progresses as it matures a koi keeper, who has never considered showing can still become a winner as there are many photographic competitions now that do not involve transporting koi to a showground . There will be koi keepers who are sure their skills equal those of a trained koi judge although to us most customers see koi mainly as pet fish.

A couple of years ago I took samples of a large consignment of new koi you imported back to my laboratory, as you were concerned about them. They did not have any disease but a problem resulting from intensive farming methods. You kept them in isolation when most dealers would have given up on them due to the time and space they needed. Did you have another reason to save them or was their recovery a challenge to your husbandry skills?
Keeping fish that are not at their best on arrival for long periods in an endeavour to prepare them for sale given the time and expense of keeping tanks specifically for them is never viable. Pam and I have to admit to being sentimental about the koi in our care although Paula I have to confess I did like the element of challenge you faced me with to see if those koi could thrive under my care regime . That particular shipment of koi is now in great shape and feeding well and will be going into the sales area this season. I hope you agree I did rise to this particular challenge.

In conclusion
A visit to Avenue Fisheries is not all about koi as there are many colourful birds such as budgies, parakeets, and macaws on display. In addition, Pam cares for a rescue cat as well as the local stray cat population of Wyboston although they are not allowed anywhere near the koi and have their own facilities. Then there are the dogs that include a Wirehaired Vizsla, a Parsons Russell Terrier, and naturally, they would have to own a Japanese Akita. However, by now I am well aware that by my next visit a new puppy is never out of the question. All this adds up to the fact that Steven, and Pam the Avenue Fisheries team are by nature animal lovers. It is not surprising therefore, that their high standards of animal care and koi welfare are not seen as an endless task but are a way of life for them all. Although they know I will keep trying I am sure I will struggle to set them a challenge that they will not rise to.

 

Note: This article has been written by Paula Reynolds, who retains the copyright, and is not to be reproduced in any form without prior written consent.

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