Improving Fish Health in the North Central Region by Integrating Extension with the Development of Alternative Disease Prevention Methods

As the Great Lakes State, Michigan is known for fishing; recreational and commercial fishing are valued at $4-7B each year. Fish used for replenishing these wild populations, as well as human consumption and bait, are produced in other ways, too, such as aquaculture.

Collaborators and Liaisons

Co-Principle Investigators

  • Matthew A. Smith, Xylem Analytics America’s
  • Nicholas Phelps, University of Minnesota

Industry Liaison

  • Dan Vogler, Harrietta Hills Trout Farm

Extension Liaison

  • Matthew A. Smith, Xylem Analytics America’s

But Michigan’s farmed fish—and therefore, all fish—are in trouble. Flavobacterium psychrophilum is a destructive pathogen that causes bacterial coldwater disease and rainbow trout fry syndrome in salmon and trout. Flavobacteria are one of the most pressing fish health issues in the North Central Region (NCR) and globally. Recent research determined Flavobacteria cause more losses than all other pathogens combined in Michigan state hatcheries.

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center at Iowa State University, the Improving Fish Health project aims to arm producers with practical means of improving farmed fish health in the NCR by building upon existing regional capacity to deploy a multifaceted and sustainable fish health extension program. The program will be designed to significantly improve professional capacity, on-farm best-management practices, and real-time responses to fish health challenges.

In addition, the project will integrate flavobacteria solutions into the extension program. Surveys for flavobacteria will be conducted during farm visits to isolate, characterize, and identify the most problematic variants. With this information, targeted and immediately deployable vaccine preparations will be developed and evaluated under laboratory and on-farm conditions.

This research and outreach has the potential for incredible impact. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, total value of trout sales for 2021 across the nation was $97.3 million, but total loss was $8.09 million; disease accounted for 54 percent of these losses.


  1. Develop practical and usable fish health applications for producers and fish health professionals through farm visits, trainings, and the creation of pragmatic resources by NCR fish health veterinarians.
  2. Determine, for the first time, the predominating flavobacteria variants that drive economic losses in the NCR trout industry.
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of newly developed vaccines in preventing losses caused by regionally predominating flavobacteria under laboratory and field conditions.