National Reference Centre for Fish, Crustacean and Mollusc Pathology
OIE Reference Laboratory for Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy of Marine Fish

National reference laboratory for fish, crustacean and mollusc pathology / OIE reference laboratory for viral encephalopathy and retinopathy of marine fish

The National Reference Centre for the Study and Diagnosis of Fish, Crustacean and Mollusc Pathology is formed by three National Reference Centres which actively cooperate with each other:

  • Laboratory for Fish Diseases
  • Laboratory for Bivalve Mollusc Diseases
  • Laboratory for Crustacean Diseases

The Centre was designated as an OIE Reference Laboratory For Encephalopathy and Retinopathy of Marine Fish in 1999.

In addition, the laboratory for epidemiological studies of aquatic organisms was set up in 2012 to integrate and support the three reference laboratories for fish, crustaceans and molluscs.

An experimental aquarium authorized by the Ministry of Health has been established at the NRL, formed by independent tanks of various sizes for conducting experimental infection trials in both freshwater and seawater fish.

The staff is formed by experts from a variety of diagnostic sectors: virology, bacteriology, parasitology, histopathology, molecular biology and epidemiology, all with access to sophisticated modern instruments for correctly diagnosing known and emerging pathologies.

The Centre is currently taking part in several national and EU research projects. The NRL has been operating in conformity with UNI/EN/ISO 17025 standards since 2001.

Activities and servicesProjects and collaborationsContacts

Activities and services

The Centre has years of experience in diagnosing aquatic animal pathologies, most notably salmonid diseases. Most activities do, however, involve pathologies affecting different species of fish and molluscs reared in the Centre’s area of jurisdiction (sea bass, sea bream, catfish, eels, cyprinids, mussels and clams).

In-depth investigations are performed for OIE-listed diseases and the methods described in the OIE “Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals” (9th ed.) and Council Directives 95/70/EC and 2001/183/EC, are routinely applied.

The Centre has been involved in the development of experimental vaccines for different bacterial fish diseases for many years, and an adjuvanted bacterin was recently successfully employed in field trials and later authorized by the Italian Ministry of Health to control Lactococcosis caused by Lactococcus garvieae, which is a major bacterial problem in the Italian trout industry.

The Centre is also actively involved in the development of an efficacious vaccine against viral retino-encephalopathy, a disease causing a severe neuropathological condition in marine fish, as sea bass.

The Centre cooperates with the laboratory for the control of crustacean and mollusc hygiene, which is involved in developing new techniques for identifying fish species, evaluating shelf-life and detecting viral foodborne diseases (HAV, Norovirus, enterovirus). It has extensive experience in the control of microbiological parameters of sea water for the classification of bivalve harvesting areas, according to national and EU legislation.

The main activities are:

  • diagnosis of mortality in reared/wild fish and molluscs;
  • confirmation of diagnoses of diseases made by other laboratories;
  • development of field surveillance plans for fish and mollusc diseases;
  • consulting services for veterinarians and farmers;
  • consulting services for official regional and national veterinary services;
  • development, standardization and distribution of diagnostic reagents;
  • development, standardization and distribution of diagnostic assays;
  • reference activity on finfish and mollusc diseases and controls for the Ministry of Health;
  • applied research on the diagnosis and control of emerging fish, crustacean, and mollusc diseases;
  • performance of ring trials;
  • training of official veterinary service inspectors and researchers from public institutes and universities;
  • teaching;
  • data collection for epidemiological studies;
  • georeferencing of farms and rivers in the territory of reference;
  • provision of expert advice for the Italian Ministry of Health on aquatic animal health issues;
  • research in national and international projects.

Diagnostic capabilities

Besides basic diagnostics (necroscopy, bacteriology, virology, histopathology), biomolecular techniques (real-time and RT-PCR, genome sequencing and phylogenetic characterization of strains, MALDI-TOF, pyrosequencing) are now routinely used at the Reference Centre for Fish, Mollusc and Crustacean diseases to correctly  diagnose and characterize isolated viral and bacterial strains. In addition, species can be diagnosed rapidly and accurately using the above molecular biology techniques. To this end, the Centre manages the Ittiobase database of genetic information on the main commercial aquatic species.

Projects and collaborations

Research is an another important departmental activity, involving several national and international research projects, the most important of which are:

LIFE RARITY: Eradication of the Louisiana red swamp crayfish and protection of freshwater crayfish of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region (LIFE 10 NAT / IT / 000239)

The Louisiana crayfish (Procambarus clarkii, Girardi, 1852) is among the most harmful invasive alien species in terms of environmental impact and biodiversity. Since being imported into Spain from the United States in 1972, it has invaded the whole of Europe. In 1989 the species was reported in Piedmont, after which it spread to Tuscany and many other regions of Italy.

After acclimatizing to Friuli Venezia Giulia, probably in 2006, Louisiana crayfish have become a serious problem due particularly to the risks associated with:

  • the spread of crayfish plague (Aphanomyces astac), asymptomatically carried by the organism but lethal for native species of crayfish;
  • potential toxicity for human health when harvested in environments with phytotoxic blue-green algae in flower (cyanobacteria);
  • aggressiveness, resistance to stress, reproductive efficiency, thus guaranteeing a net competitive advantage over indigenous species;
  • modifications to the environment caused by digging which make the land porous and permeable, potentially leading to water infiltration and the collapse of river banks.

The aim of the intense, highly structured work programme is to:

  • prevent the alien species from spreading;
  • strengthen the stock of the native species (Austropotamobius pallipes, Lereboullet, 1858);
  • issue regional regulations designed to control Louisiana red swamp crayfish, protect native species, and safeguard aquatic ecosystems and public health; approval of said regulations should preferably be shared with the other players involved (recreational and professional fishermen, environmentalists, institutions, citizens, etc.).
Improving European mollusc aquaculture: disease detection and management (EU project- FP7- KBBE.2010.1.2-08)

The aim of the research was to study interactions between molluscs and pathogens. The IZSVe’s role was to monitor Pacific oysters (C. gigas) and mytilids (M. galloprovincialis) embedded in the Goro Lagoon.

The health of the bivalve molluscs was monitored for three years by histological, bacteriological and virological examination.

The mytilids tested negative at all times for notifiable diseases and were only rarely infested with trematodes. No distress or abnormal mortality was observed. The oysters tested positive for ostreid herpesvirus 1, diagnosed by PCR or confirmed by sequencing. Mortality was recorded, but in combination with anoxic phenomena in the lagoon.

MolTraq: molecular tracing of viral pathogens in aquaculture (EMIDA)

The aim of the project is to increase knowledge on transmission, prevention and control of viral diseases in aquaculture and to develop a generic approach to viral disease control by using information on epidemiological and phylogenetic attributes from several important aquatic animal viruses.

The project will 1) generate and use spatio-temporal epidemiological data, phylogeographic data and gene expression data for important host-viral pathogen systems to identify important factors affecting the spread of diseases in aquaculture and 2) integrate these in scenario simulation models to assess the effects of various control strategies for selected host-pathogen systems.

The project consists of six workpackages:

  • WP 1: Project co-ordination and consortium management;
  • WP 2: Collection of virus sequences and epidemiological data;
  • WP 3: Phylogeny and evolution of viruses;
  • WP 4: Investigation of the effect of temperature on gene expression patterns;
  • WP 5: Scenario simulation models for control options;
  • WP 6: Dissemination and exploitation for developing the website.
Targetfish: Targeted disease prophylaxis in European fish farming. 7th Framework Programme (2012-2017)

The aim of the TargetFish project is to respond to the lack of existing immunizing products by developing prototype vaccines for the main viral and bacteriological pathologies of the six most widely farmed species of fish.  The project was awarded a 6-million euro grant under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission and will run for five years. The project consortium is formed by research institutes and private veterinary and biotechnology companies.

The National reference laboratory for the study and diagnosis of fish, crustacean and mollusc diseases of IZSVe, alongside other Italian and European partners, will be involved in the development of a vaccine prototype for viral encephaloretinopathy (VER) of sea bass, which is the most serious viral disease to affect one of the most important species in the Mediterranean aquaculture industry.

INNOVAQUA: Network for technological innovation in aquaculture

This project is funded by the Programme for Cross-Border Cooperation (Italy-Slovenia 2007-2013), under the umbrella of the European Regional Development Fund and national funding.

The aim of INNOVAQUA is to create a permanent network of academic/research institutions and companies operating in the field of aquaculture, with a view to orienting available scientific knowledge towards the development of technological innovations for use by producers.

Research and innovation work will be focused on the most commercially viable species in aquaculture, exploring systems for controlling fish health and environmental farming conditions. The aim will be to improve methods to increase animals’ immune response, including research into new probiotic products, and to identify diagnostic indicators and therapeutic principles for protecting against disease.

INNOVAQUA is a network of 8 partners formed by academic (Universities of Trieste, Udine, Padua and Nova Gorica) and research institutions (Istituto Zooprofilattico delle Venezie, Kmetijsko gozdarska zbornica Slovenije) and companies operating in the aquaculture domain (Vodomec d.o.o., Shoreline


Director of National Reference Laboratory for Fish, Crustacean and Mollusc Pathology
Giuseppe Arcangeli
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Director of OIE Reference Laboratory for Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy of Marine Fish
Anna Toffan
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Administrative Office
Tel.: +39 0426 21841
Fax: +39 0426 901411

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