A national health emergency has been declared by Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture due to the detection of bacteria in contaminated hatcheries and pods, a threat that could potentially ruin the country’s tilapia exports for the year.
At least 43 outbreak cases have been reported around the country, and the government has been scrambling to contain the outbreak of the bacterium Streptococcus aglactiae ST7 1a since it was detected within the waters of some tilapia crops inside the country starting in March 2023.
The bacteria mostly affects tilapia and isn’t harmful or transferable to other species, according to experts. The National Agricultural Institute (ICA) describes its effects on tilapia as deadly due to a disease with the “main clinical signs include lethargy, erratic swimming, exophthalmia, skin, tail, and fin lesions, and death.”
Juan Fernando Roa, the manager of ICA, postulated that the bacteria may have entered the country through the irregular import of products that came from Mexico, though this has yet to be officially confirmed.
The institute, which has also declared a formal state of sanitary emergency, has reported that more than 40 tons of tilapia have been lost, with a tilapia mortality rate of 10% in Tolima, 12% in Huila, 37% in Magdalena, and 47% in Atlántico.
The National Aquaculture and Fisheries Authority (AUNAP) visited multiple fish markets in Bogotá, Ibagué, Neiva, and Barranquilla to reassure traders that the bacteria itself is not harmful to humans and that the proper steps are being taken to ensure the sanitary safety of the surviving fishes.
“The message we share is one of calmness,” said Hernán David Rubio, director of AUNAP. He added that, “this health emergency was declared so that the government can implement prevention and containment measures in a timely manner, guaranteeing food security, as well as the feasibility of importing vaccines.”
It is unclear how significant the bacterium’s spread in Colombia could be, but government offices have reassured consumers that the fish that comes into the market after going through a strenuous process guarantees the “traceability, safety, and quality of the fishing product that reaches the table of Colombians.”
“We applaud the campaign of the Ministry of Agriculture and the accompaniment of AUNAP so that people do not panic, continue eating fish and continue eating healthy,” said Jhon Gutiérrez, president of the Marketers Cooperative of Plaza del Pescado in Barranquilla.