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Improving fish health in the NCR by integrating extension with the development of alternative disease prevention methods


Arming producers with practical means of improving farmed fish health in the NCR was identified as a priority need during the 2020 NCR Aquaculture Roundtable Sessions. This is achievable in short term with off-the-shelf tools previously developed by NCRAC-funded projects and regional synergistic efforts. We will address the knowledge-action gap by building upon existing capacity in the NCR to deploy a multifaceted and sustainable fish health Extension program designed to significantly improve professional capacity, on-farm best-management-practices (BMPs), and real-time responses to fish health challenges. Simultaneously and complimentary, we will create and integrate solutions into the Extension program for flavobacteria, (i.e., causes of bacterial coldwater and columnaris disease, etc.), one of the most pressing fish health issues in the NCR and globally. Indeed, recent research determined flavobacteria causes more losses than all other pathogens combined in Michigan state hatcheries. Surveys for flavobacteria will be conducted during NCR farm visits to isolate, characterize, and identify the most NCR-problematic variants. With this information, targeted and immediately deployable vaccine preparations will be developed and evaluated under laboratory and on-farm conditions. The proposed study addresses many 2021 NCRAC priority thematic areas and, if funded, would arm producers with actionable strategies to immediately improve fish health.


1. Develop practical and usable fish health applications for producers and fish health professionals through farm visits, trainings, and the creation of pragmatic resources by NCR fish health veterinarians.

2. Determine, for the first time, the predominating flavobacterial variants driving economic losses in the NCR trout industry.

3. Evaluate the effectiveness of newly developed vaccines in preventing losses caused by regionally predominating flavobacteria under laboratory and field conditions.



1. Publish fish health survey results in an Extension document.

2. Deliver fish health survey results and knowledge during farm visits in NCR.

3. Create site-specific and generalizable BMPs for producers.

4. Conduct workshops for farmers, veterinary students, and veterinarians.

5. Create low-cost fish health kits along with videos and prints describing how materials are used.

6. Generate and deploy vaccine preparations for use against a bacterium responsible for one of the most damaging diseases of coldwater fish in the USA.

7. Determine primary transmission sources for flavobacterial diseases on NCR farms and interrupt these sources through targeted and newly developed best management practices.

8. Cryo-bank of bacterial isolates and samples (maintained at no charge to NCRAC by PI Loch) available upon request for aquatic veterinarians, fish health laboratories, and researchers to use in NCR farm disease prevention and control plans.

9. Provide education, training, and outreach experience for undergraduate students, graduate students, and a post-doctoral researcher involved in the proposed research.

10. Publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals (including Journal of Extension) and presentations at multiple professional conferences and stakeholder meetings.

Project Outline


Termination Report (Year 1, Award Number 2018-38500-28887)

Progress Report (Year 2, Award Number 2020-38500-32560)


Award Amount


Award Number

2018-38500-28887 year 1, 2020-38500-32560 year 2

Principal Investigator

Chairperson: Thomas P. Loch, Michigan State University Co-Principal Investigators: Matthew A. Smith, The Ohio State University