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Western Fisheries Science News, November 2017 | Issue 5.11

December 13, 2017

USGS and Chinese Fish Health Specialists Meet in the People's Republic of China to Discuss Fish Health

WFRC scientists with colleagues from the Heilongjiang River Fishery Research Institute
WFRC scientists with colleagues from the Heilongjiang River Fishery Research Institute, including our hosts, Dr. Liming Xu (far left) and Dr. Ton Yan Lu (far right). (Public domain.)

Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) scientists Drs. Gael Kurath and Maureen Purcell, along with University of Washington scientist Dr. Rachel Breyta, traveled to Heilongjiang and Liaoning Provinces, People’s Republic of China in October as part of an international collaborative effort to address fish health concerns specific to coldwater aquaculture.  The researchers and managers met with Chinese fish health specialists to discuss a number of fish diseases, particularly infectious hematopoietic necrosis (IHN).

IHN is a viral disease endemic to native Pacific salmonid fish of western North America that has spread worldwide through the movement of infected Pacific salmonid species.  The IHN virus (IHNV) was first detected in the 1950s in Washington and Oregon hatcheries where sockeye salmon were being decimated by a then unknown fish disease. Scientists from the WFRC were among the first to show that the cause was a virus and, in 1969, gave the disease its present name1. In 1995 the WFRC attained OIE2 (World Organization for Animal Health) Reference Laboratory status for IHN and until 2016 was the only such laboratory in the world.

The WFRC has been building collaborative ties with Chinese fish health laboratories over the past several years.  In 2014, the WFRC and the State Key Laboratory of Aquatic Animal Health in Shenzhen, Guangdong participated in a Twinning Project sponsored by the OIE. The main objective of the project was to provide training and experience that will allow the State Key Laboratory to gain OIE Reference Laboratory status for IHN. IHN virus is currently one of the most significant pathogens in Chinese coldwater aquaculture, causing high mortality and economic loss in rainbow trout. China has a long history of aquaculture and represents more than 60 percent of world aquaculture production. In 2014, China accounted for 45.5 million tonnes, or more than 60 percent of global fish production from aquaculture.3

During their recent visit to China, WFRC scientists met with fish health scientists from the Heilongjiang River Fishery Research Institute (HRFRI) of Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences to discuss how the IHN virus is impacting Chinese aquaculture in their region.  Dr. Purcell gave a presentation on examples of successful control strategies for important salmonid diseases, Dr.  Breyta discussed epidemiological and bioinformatics approaches for fish health management, and Dr. Kurath gave an overview of IHNV displacement and evolution events in the Pacific Northwest.  The scientists also visited a rainbow trout farm in Benxi in the east of Liaoning province to observe first-hand the impacts of IHNV in the field.  This was the second visit by Dr. Kurath and she recently co-authored a journal article with HRFRI scientists titled “A effective DNA vaccine against diverse genotype J infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus strains prevalent in China” (Xu, Liming et al., 2017). The paper reports laboratory testing of a highly effective vaccine against IHNV that was developed by Dr. Liming Xu and her colleagues at the HRFRI.  This vaccine is being applied successfully for protecting rainbow trout from IHNV diseases losses at the Benxi fish farm.

In two other recently published manuscripts scientists from the State Key Laboratory in the People's Republic of China and USGS researchers from WFRC have collaborated on IHNV research.  A manuscript titled “Analytical validation of a reverse transcriptase droplet digital PCR (RT-ddPCR) for quantitative detection of infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus” (Jia, Peng et al. 2017) evaluated the potential of a recently developed droplet digital polymerase chain reaction technology for attaining accurate quantification of IHNV. A second paper titled “Insight into IHNV in Chinese rainbow trout aquaculture from virus isolates from 7 provinces in 2010-2014” (Jia, Peng et al., in press4) reports the genetic diversity and epidemiological patterns of IHNV in China.

 “A global understanding of IHNV is important for fish health science within the Ecosystems mission of the USGS” said Dr. Purcell.  “Fish and fish products are moved globally and infectious agents can move with them.  The USGS WFRC has a long-term research program that tracks the global epidemiology and adaptation of IHNV.”

Collaborations between USGS and Chinese fish health specialists are continuing. Publications are planned for 2018, and Dr. Jia Peng from the State Key Laboratory (Shenzhen, Guangdong) will be arriving at the WFRC in December for a one year scientific exchange.

Newsletter Author: Debra Becker


1Amend, D.F., Yasutake, W.T., and Mead, R.W., 1969. A hematopoietic virus disease of rainbow trout and sockeye salmon: Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 98: 796–804.

2Created by international agreement in 1924, the Office International des Epizooties be­came the World Organization for Animal Health in 2003 but kept its historical acronym OIE.

3FAO. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Rome. 200 pp.

4Jia P., Breyta R, Li Q, Qian X, Wu B, Zheng W, Wen Z, Liu Y, Kurath G, Hua Q, Jin N, Liu H. Insight into IHNV in Chinese rainbow trout aquaculture from virus isolates from 7 provinces in 2010-2014. Aquaculture, 496: 239-246.



USGS Scientists Provided Technical Assistance to Lao People’s Democratic Republic Scientists on the Mekong River: November 27-December 9, 2017, WFRC scientists Collin Smith and John Beeman traveled to Lao People’s Democratic Republic to provide technical assistance (TA) to scientists at Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River. The assistance was in the form of presentations and meetings to further their understanding of the use of imaging sonar to evaluate fish behaviors and abundances at hydroelectric dams. The TA is part of an ongoing project of the Interior’s International Technical Assistance Program. 

USGS Presents at Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program Review: On November 28-29, 2017, WFRC scientist Ken Tiffan participated in the 2017 Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program (AFEP) Review in Richland, WA. Tiffan provided a talk titled “Lower Granite Reservoir Predation- 2016 and 2017” that examines the diet composition of smallmouth bass and estimates their consumption of juvenile salmonids in three habitat types in reaches of Lower Granite Reservoir (LGR) on the Snake River. Scientists found that smallmouth bass predation of Chinook salmon in LGR depends in part on habitat type and distribution in the reservoir. This may be important for future efforts to create shallow-water habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon in the reservoir. The primary purpose of AFEP is to provide scientific information that will assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in making decisions regarding the safe passage of anadromous fish past the eight dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.


USGS Provides Seminar at Port Townsend Marine Science Center Lecture Series: On November 12, 2017, USGS WFRC Director Jill Rolland provided a seminar at the Port Townsend Marine Science, WA. The seminar, titled “Sharing the Sound — Salmon, Steelhead and Settlement” discussed what scientists are learning about anthropogenic changes in the Puget Sound ecosystem, ranging from sky glow to ubiquitous pathogens, and potential impacts on salmon and steelhead recovery. The seminar was featured in the Peninsula Daily News (Port Angeles, WA), and on KPTZ-FM’s “Nature Now” program.

USGS at Society of Environmental Toxicologists and Chemists Meeting: On November 12-16, 2017, USGS scientists John Hansen, Summer Burdick, Diane Elliott, Barbara Martin, and Kathy Echols provided a presentation titled “Transcriptomic analysis of microcysitin LR toxicity in the endangered Lost River suckers” at the Society of Environmental Toxicologists and Chemists annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN. Upper Klamath Lake endangered Lost River sucker populations are threatened by a prolonged lack of recruitment into spawning populations. A number of factors have been implicated including health impacts due to microcystin LR exposure from large Microcystis blooms. The scientists found that transcriptomic results indicated significant metabolic stress and potential endocrine disruption associated with microcystin -LR ingestion, both of which could contribute to a lack of recruitment.


Buchinger, T.J., U. Bussy, K. Li, H. Wang, M. Huertas, C.F. Baker, L. Jia, M.C. Hayes, W. Li, and N.S. Johnson. 2017. Phylogenetic distribution of a male pheromone that may exploit a nonsexual preference in lampreys. J. Evol. Biol. 30(12): 2244-2254.