AVMA Statement on Veterinarians in Aquatic Animal Medicine

Comment on this policy

Veterinarians in the United States provide animal and public health care (i.e. diagnose disease, perform surgery, evaluate and recommend management procedures and prescribe treatment). The practice of veterinary medicine encompasses aquatic animals, including aquatic livestock and pets, and is controlled by state veterinary practice acts. Veterinarians are accredited by federal agencies to carry out programs for the control of disease, and are licensed by state agencies to diagnose disease, prescribe therapy, and implement programs for the prevention, control and treatment of disease in all vertebrate and invertebrate species.

Because of their education in comparative anatomy, pathophysiology, pharmacology, toxicology, epidemiology, surgery, therapeutics, as well as preventive and regulatory medicine, veterinarians are familiar with bio-security, disease prevention and control, the use of pharmaceuticals, biologics, pesticides and their potential for adverse affects. The principles acquired in this education also apply to aquatic species and their environments. Veterinarians are licensed as animal health care providers who prescribe and dispense drugs for treatment of all animal species to relieve animal suffering and assure target animal safety, efficacy of treatment, and public health protection. The concerns for maintaining a safe food supply and avoiding potential risks of drug residues and environmental contamination are parallel in terrestrial and aquatic environments. In the execution of these responsibilities, veterinarians are held to a high level of accountability and legal liability for their professional activities. This is appropriate for all health care professionals, particularly where public health and safety are concerned.

The management of aquatic animal health overlaps the legal and professional practice of veterinary medicine. The AVMA and the state veterinary boards should be consulted in the development of professional standards applicable to animal health, including qualifications, education, and examination.

The AVMA believes that conflicting regulatory, legal, and professional interests will be created if federal and state conservation agencies are given exclusive control over aquatic animal health issues, including those of the private aquaculture industries. The needs of private and public aquaculture must be balanced with public health concerns while providing a safe and abundant food supply and preserving natural aquatic animal resources.

Most countries in the world community recognize and require a veterinarian's examination and signature on certificates for shipment and importation of aquatic species. The standards of the U.S. should be in harmony with other countries. Therefore, the AVMA supports the concept that USDA accredited veterinarians, state veterinarians, and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service should be the final authorities in inspecting and certifying the health of aquatic animals. The AVMA supports and will promote additional education of existing accredited private, state, and federal veterinarians to deal with aquatic animal health inspection and certification of aquaculture stock.