Recurring epidemics and the emergence of new aquatic diseases are increasingly threatening the growth of aquaculture. The fast pace of aquaculture development and on-going global environmental, social and economic change are challenging epidemiologists in their capacity to surveil and control the spread of diseases and avert losses to farmers and impacts on their livelihoods and environment.

By placing farmers as the starting point of disease surveillance, the authors contend that farmer-based syndromic disease surveillance holds potential to overcome the current limitations of conventional disease surveillance, and demonstrate its relevance for aquaculture, particularly in resource constrained environments.

Drawing on the literature on aquaculture, epidemiology, farmers’ decision-making, technology adoption in animal health management and participation in animal disease surveillance, they highlight the complex interplay of behavioural (economic and social) factors behind farmers’ reporting of disease. To this they add insights from institutional economics to analyse the constraints and dilemmas disease surveillance poses to institutions.

While information technologies are playing a significant supporting role in disease surveillance, the central argument here is that if data collection for epidemiological monitoring is about technology, surveillance itself is about people. Stakeholder involvement and perception of surveillance benefits, value of epidemiological data collected, farmers’ knowledge, motivation and trust and institutions’ functioning are key considerations in the design of successful syndromic disease surveillance programmes.

These human dimensions constitute important knowledge gaps in animal disease surveillance in general, and in particular in aquaculture. Interdisciplinary collaboration in disease surveillance is essential. It is crucial in an environment where diseases are emerging and spreading in increasingly complex, interconnected and dynamic social-ecological systems and is the key to unlocking the numerous benefits of farmer-based syndromic aquatic disease surveillance.

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