Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

Tracking the Health of Utah’s Fish Population

There are nearly 100 fee fishing facilities, aquaculture facilities, and fish processing plants that are regulated by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s Aquaculture Program that are dotted across Utah.

Utah’s private aquaculture facilities cultivate fish for live sales (i.e. stocking into fee fishing facilities, private ponds, aquaponic systems, etc.) or produce and grow out fish to market size.  Fish processing plants receive market size fish and process them into fish fillets and other products for commercial sale and human consumption.  Fee fishing facilities provide clients with the opportunity to fish in Utah without a fishing license. 

“All fee fishing, private aquaculture facilities, and fish processing are required to be licensed by rule (R58-17: Aquaculture and Aquatic Animal Health Rule,” said Anna Marie Forest, State Fish Health Specialist.

Forest said Aquaculture facilities that meet Utah’s health testing standards are granted Health Approval and are allowed to move (stock) aquatic animals into private ponds, fee fishing facilities, etc.  Health Approval is an important aspect of the Aquaculture Program.  Millions of fish are stocked into Utah’s private ponds, fee fishing facilities, community fisheries and state waters every year.  Each transfer of fish has the potential to inadvertently transfer fish pathogens or aquatic invasive species along with the fish.  Once a pathogen or invasive species is introduced and becomes established in the natural environment, there is little or no possibility for either treatment or eradication.

“The health approval process involves sampling fish and testing for a specific list of pathogens that includes whirling disease, several viruses, and bacteria that affect fish and other aquatic animals,” said Forest.

Aquaculture facilities are also inspected for aquatic invasive species on an annual basis. The program ensures that aquaculture facilities receive high-quality products and minimizes the risk that pathogens and diseases are spread to new areas.

The aquaculture/aquatic animal health program has several functions:

  1. License private aquaculture and fee fishing facilities;
  2. Grant health approval to in-state private aquaculture facilities and all out-of-state aquaculture facilities;
  3. Issue entry permits for aquatic animals entering the state.

Each function of the aquatic animal health program is an aspect of Utah’s animal disease traceability program. Knowing where diseased animals are, where they’ve been, and when is important to ensure a rapid response when animal disease events take place.

Although animal disease traceability does not prevent disease, an efficient and accurate traceability system reduces the number of animals and response time involved in a disease investigation; which, in turn, reduces the economic impact on owners and affected communities.