Seminar report | Resistant microbes and precarious lives: aquaculture health practices and their social and material determinants

Keeping up with AMR seems to expand my knowledge of the world like few other things. Yet another “did you know?” moment came when I attended a seminar the AMR Centre arranged, which discussed research looking at AMR and aquaculture in Bangladesh. I was informed of a salient fact that 60% of our seafood comes from aquaculture, and over 80% of this comes from South and South East Asia.

What is aquaculture? Well, like agriculture, it is the production of organisms for food in a manufactured environment, except evidently these are aquatic organisms. The speaker the AMR Centre had for this seminar was Dr. Andrea Butcher, a post-doctoral researcher who is part of a multidisciplinary research team based at the University of Exeter. Her team was looking at the socioeconomic drivers of antimicrobial use in Bangladesh’s aquaculture industry.                                                     

To get the AMR bit of her talk, you need to understand quite a lot of (interesting) background. Her work looked at shrimp and prawn farming in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the 5th largest aquaculture producer globally and crustacean export is worth $498m (that’s a lot of shrimp). 90% of shrimp and prawn farming is in “extensive farming”, which use very large areas of land compared to labour, fertiliser and capital. Apparently, the disease burden in this sector is high with “white spot virus” and other (unknown, presumably some bacterial) pathogens causing a LOT of diseased crustaceans. Interestingly though, farmers DON’T routinely use antibiotics.

However, there is a great emphasis in Bangladesh on getting quality “seed” of post-larval prawn/shrimp that are bred in special hatcheries that are sterile, and where antibiotics ARE used. The economic impact of previous outbreaks of pathogens in crustaceans means regulation now exists stating all Bangladeshi prawn seed must come from hatcheries. Use of antibiotics has actually reduced in some ways, with increased use of probiotics, but they are apparently necessary because other methods simply cannot be used for the whole process. Oxytetracycline is licenced for use, but a number of other antibiotics are used nonetheless it seems.

AMR is of concern because of the effluent from these hatcheries, but it seems to me, this is an interesting area where antibiotics are not being used substantially but, with the growth of aquaculture more generally, a number of economic and biological pressures may proliferate the use of antimicrobials in a growing industry. Perhaps unlike agriculture, the knowledge of AMR can be used to good effect to reduce antimicrobial misuse BEFORE it goes wrong, rather than the other way around.

I’m now off to have a prawn cocktail with a whole new perspective!

Written by Vinesh Patel (AMR Centre Student Liaison Officer)