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011912-AFS Adopts New Policy Statement on Fish Sedatives

American Fisheries Society
January 19, 2012

Action to Make Fish Sedatives Available to Facilitate Research, Management, and Culture Efforts-- American Fisheries Society Adopts New Policy Statement

In December of 2011, the American Fisheries Society adopted a new policy statement on the “Need for an Immediate-Release Anesthetic/Sedative for Use in the Fisheries Disciplines”. Like all AFS policies, this document represents the collective voice of the oldest, and largest professional organization dedicated to the fisheries sciences and management. Specifically, this document calls attention to the need for better options for sedating fish during handling.

Fisheries professionals routinely sedate fish for a range of procedures such as collection of samples or morphometric data, surgical implantation of tracking devices, or transport. Fish are innately difficult to handle, and when fish are actively resisting restraint, they are more likely to be injured. Handling fish without sedation may cause greater stress to the animals, and may pose a risk to personnel, particularly in the case of handling large or hazardous fish (e.g., fish with large teeth, spines). In short, if fish are sedated prior to handling, risk to both fish and handler is minimized. It is especially important that fish being measured and tagged in the field or transported live, can be sedated and immediately released into the wild or taken to market. At this time, no such “immediate-release sedative” is available.

There are a number of compounds that can be used to effectively sedate fishes, including compounds commonly found in human foods (e.g., eugenol and similar compounds found in clove, wintergreen, spearmint and other essential oils) and over-the-counter oral pain relievers (e.g., benzocaine). Although these compounds are widely considered harmless to both fish and humans, they have not undergone the multi-year, multi-million dollar process necessary to gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as animal drugs. As unapproved animal drugs, FDA prohibits the use of eugenol, benzocaine, and related compounds as fish sedatives.

This issue was reviewed by a team of 12 experts representing academia, federal and state agencies, and public and private aquaculture. The team concluded that whereas fish sedatives derived from eugenol or benzocaine pose minimal risk to the public or fisheries resources, the absence of a suitable immediate-release sedative jeopardizes fishes, fisheries, fish culture, research, and those involved in these activities. After review by the AFS Resource Policy Committee, Governing Board, and membership at-large, the Society has called for the consequences of inaction to be balanced against the consequences of approving the use of benzocaine or eugenol as immediate-release fish sedatives.

Accordingly, it is the policy of the American Fisheries Society to engage and assist the FDA in:

1. Expediting review of the candidate immediate-release sedatives;
2. Implementing a risk management-based approach to establishing the data requirements for the candidate sedatives and other drugs intended for use in minor species including fish;
3. Reducing data requirements for the approval of the candidate sedatives based on the characteristics of the candidate sedatives, the nature of the intended uses, and the experience of the prospective end-users; and
4. Giving the two candidate sedatives deferred regulatory status or, if direct regulatory discretion is not advisable, expanding the current Investigational New Animal Drug (INAD) designations to allow for immediate-release use.

For the full text of the policy statement, see: fisheries.org/afs/docs/policy_34f.pdf


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