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Health Certificates for Aquatic Animal Exports from Florida

Feeling a little confused about getting health certificates done for aquatic animals?  You're not alone!  Many producers feel anxiety about completing health certificates for aquatic animals.  What are the requirements?  Who inspects the animals?  Which form do you use?  What should the certificate say?  The following information is intended to help guide Florida ornamental aquatic animal or aquaculture producers through the health certification process.  A step-by-step "Quick Guide" is also provided below. Please note that it is the responsibility of the exporting shipper to determine what the current requirements are for the state or country to which the animals are being shipped.

Interstate Shipment (movement between states)

Some states have special requirements for bringing aquatic animals in from other states.  It is highly recommended that shippers contact the State Veterinarian’s office in the destination state to confirm that all requirements are met.  The US Animal Health Association (USAHA) provides a contact list of State Veterinarians, updated annually. Note that these individuals are not necessarily the points of contact for aquaculture or aquatic animal health, and other agencies may need to be consulted.  The North Central Regional Aquaculture Center (NCRAC), with Iowa State University, maintains a limited list of state import regulations and associated contacts.  The University of Florida and USDA are not responsible for the content of either the USAHA or NCRAC websites and cannot guarantee the information is current.

International Shipments (movement between countries)

For international destinations, each country may have specific health requirements for the entry of aquatic animals.  These requirements are established by the importing country, not by the United States.  Countries may also have their own formats of aquatic animal export health certificates.  Because export requirements frequently change, be sure to confirm current export requirements, including guidelines for documentation, before each exportation event.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides a webpage--known as IRegs--dedicated to international regulations, showing specific animal health requirements for export to countries that have negotiated requirements with USDA.  However, not all countries that have import requirements for aquatic animals are listed on this site.  It is strongly recommended, for exporters wanting to ship aquatic animals to countries whose requirements are not specifically described on IRegs, to have the importer/buyer in the country of destination apply for an import permit at the appropriate ministry or animal health authority.  The import permit itself may specify import requirements.  Finally, official government websites for many countries may state or link to +these requirements.

For additional information about export requirements, contact your local USDA Service Center office where personnel can provide information about current regulations, tests, and inspections that may be required. In Florida, the USDA area office is located in Gainesville and may be contacted at 352-313-3060 or by email at vspsfl@aphis.usda.gov.  USDA Veterinary Medical Officer (VMO) and Aquaculture Liaison Dr. Katharine Starzel works directly with the Florida aquaculture industry and is located at UF TAL.  She can be reach at 813-671-5230 x114 or Katharine.Starzel@aphis.usda.gov.

Additional Interstate and International Restrictions

Be aware that states and countries may have restrictions on the entry or movement of certain species.  Be sure to check if the animals being moved require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (for example, CITES listed animals such as seahorses) or if a state has certain restrictions on animals (for example, invasive species or injurious wildlife such as the walking catfish (family Clariidae)). 

Who Inspects the Fish?
Most importing countries require that a USDA-accredited veterinarian visually examine all – or a representative sample – of the animals being shipped. Some countries require additional diagnostic tests for specific diseases.  The extent of the veterinary inspection depends on the requirements established by the importing country, not by the United States. USDA APHIS is the lead federal agency for the health certification of farm-raised ("aquacultured") aquatic animals, and USDA-accredited veterinarians are private veterinarians who have special training to sign official USDA health certificates.

Note that veterinarians will usually charge for their service, regardless of whether or not a shipment passes inspection.  It is, therefore, in the exporter’s best interest to be confident of their animals’ good health before scheduling an inspection.

Plan ahead when scheduling a shipment requiring health certification to ensure that a USDA-accredited veterinarian and, if necessary, a USDA APHIS Veterinary Services official (see “Who has to sign the certificate?” section) are available to perform the inspection and endorse the documents, respectively. 

Dr. Roy Yanong at the UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab can perform the necessary inspections for exportation of ornamental fish and aquatic invertebrates by Florida aquaculture producers.  To schedule an inspection, contact Dr. Yanong at 813-671-5230 x104.  In most cases, inspections will need to be conducted at the farm (or other exporting facility).  Inspections can only be performed at the lab in some cases and only if the shipment is in packaging directly en route to export.  A base fee is charged for inspections conducted at the lab or within a 5 mile radius of the lab.  Additional round-trip mileage is charged for site visits greater than this distance.

You may also locate other aquatic animal health veterinarians near you by searching www.aquavetmed.info or https://www.globalvetlink.com/ .

Other federal agencies have jurisdiction over wild or feral freshwater and marine aquatic animals, as well as seafood for human consumption.  For more information on who you should contact, please contact Dr. Katharine Starzel at 813-671-5230 x114 or Katharine.Starzel@aphis.usda.gov.

Which Form to Use?
USDA forms that may be used as health certificates for aquatic animals are:

As of this writing, one of these forms (APHIS form 7001) is available in electronic (pdf) format.  Your USDA-accredited veterinarian may have the paper forms, or he/she may contact the local USDA Service Center office to obtain necessary forms.  Some countries accept either multi-page paper/carbon format or single page pdf format; check with your importer and the country of import to verify whether a pdf format is acceptable.

In addition to, or instead of the forms listed above, an importing country may have specific forms that must be used.  Confirm which documents are required by checking with the appropriate import or animal health authority in the importing country, online at USDA’s IRegs or other websites, as described above.

In preparing official documents of this type, the certificate should be clearly legible or typewritten, accurate, complete, and signed in a color different from the text.  Once the documents are signed, they must not be altered.

What Should the Certificate Say?
If no specific requirements are listed or provided by the importing country or state, general statements may be printed or typed on the form by the accredited veterinarian. For shipments of ornamental species, the statement should say “ornamental”, not tropical fish.  At a minimum, the number of animals and the common and scientific names of each should be listed on the form.

If the exporter must, or prefers to, use a packing list instead of typing all of the species in the consignment on the USDA health certificate form, the packing list must:

  1. Not list any prices.
  2. Be on the letterhead of the accredited veterinarian.
  3. Identify the consignor (seller/sender/exporter) and consignee (buyer/receiver/importer).
  4. Identify the number of each type of animal being shipped as well as a total number of all animals for the consignment.
  5. Provide space in the upper right-hand corner for the associated health certificate number, which will be assigned by USDA.
  6. List the facility's USDA registration number, if applicable.
  7. Be signed and dated by the accredited veterinarian.

The associated USDA health certificate form must list the total number of animals (should be the same as listed on the packing list) and the statement "see attached packing list" in any separate areas where species names would otherwise be noted.

Who Signs the Certificate?

USDA-accredited Veterinarian, Category II
Health certificates for the export of aquatic animals are completed by a USDA-accredited veterinarian ("issuing veterinarian") who certifies animal health status by inspecting the shipment, collecting any specimens for diagnostic testing (as required by the importing country), and recording test results for the animals being exported.  The veterinarian will usually charge for this service whether or not the shipment passes inspection.  Your or your veterinarian may contact USDA to confirm your veterinarian's accreditation status.

Endorsing Federal Veterinarian
In addition to the inspection and signature by the USDA-accredited veterinarian, some foreign countries require that exports from the United States be endorsed and stamped by a USDA APHIS Veterinary Services area official (“Endorsing Federal Veterinarian”) in order to be valid.  Health certificates and packing lists are only endorsed by a USDA official if they’re first signed by the accredited veterinarian.  For endorsement in Florida, certificates may be sent (via express mail with a self-addressed, pre-paid envelope) or taken in person to one of the following:

  • USDA APHIS Veterinarian Katharine Starzel (813-671-5230 x114) located at the UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Ruskin
  • USDA APHIS area office in Gainesville (352-313-3060, vspsfl@aphis.usda.gov)
  • USDA APHIS Miami Animal Import/Export Center (305-526-2926)

If delivering the forms in person, please contact the appropriate office to schedule an appointment.  Walk-ins (Gainesville and Miami only) may be subject to wait.  If diagnostic tests are required prior to shipment, the certificate and test results must be sent to the endorsing USDA official.  The current USDA user fee for endorsing a health certificate for aquatic animals is $38.00 and is due at the time of endorsement.  Cash cannot be accepted.  This fee is in addition to the USDA-accredited veterinarian’s fee.

Most health certificates are valid for 30 days once they have been signed by the issuing accredited veterinarian.  However, some countries and even some airlines restrict health certification to a shorter time frame and in some cases, certificates must be signed within 24, 48, or 72 hours of animal shipment.

Voluntary Registration of Aquaculture Export Facilities
Some exporters of aquatic animals or their gametes (typically fish eggs), may voluntarily register their facility or facilities with USDA APHIS in order to export to countries requiring registration.  For example, registration is required for export of koi and goldfish to countries belonging to the European Union (EU), and USDA APHIS will only endorse export health certificates for this purpose from registered facilities.  In order to be registered, the facility must have a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship with a USDA-accredited veterinarian and must keep updated records on animal inventory, movement, suppliers, and health that are available for review by USDA APHIS if needed.  Annual site visits by a USDA APHIS representative are required.  These visits are subject to user fees.

For more information about the registration process and related fees, please contact Dr. Katharine Starzel at 813-671-5230 x114 or Katharine.Starzel@aphis.usda.gov.

Quick Guide for Florida Exporters of Aquatic Animals
Step 1:

Determine from the importer what the health requirements are for the state or country to which the animals are being shipped.  As the shipper of the animals, it is YOUR responsibility to know and comply with the importing country or state requirements for entry of the animals you are shipping.  If you need help confirming these requirements, consult your accredited veterinarian.  In Florida, you may also contact USDA’s Gainesville Service Center at 352-313-3060 or vspsfl@aphis.usda.gov or Dr. Katharine Starzel at 813-671-5230 x114 or Katharine.Starzel@aphis.usda.gov.

Step 2:

Obtain a health evaluation as directed by certificate requirements set by the importing state or country.  This evaluation may require the service of a USDA-accredited veterinarian who will perform a visual inspection and additional diagnostics, as necessary.

Step 3:

Have the USDA-accredited veterinarian complete and sign the health certificate.  It is recommended that APHIS form 7001, VS 17-140, or VS 17-141 be used.  Check with the importing country as to what specific documents it requires.

Step 4:

If official endorsement is required, you or your veterinarian may take or send (via express mail with a self-addressed, pre-paid envelope) the completed form(s) and a check (payable to USDA) for $38 per certificate to be endorsed to one of the offices listed below.  (If delivering forms in person, please contact the office to schedule an appointment.)  If mailing the forms, allow 48-72 hours for turn-around time.

  • USDA APHIS Veterinary Services
    Export Document Examiner
    8100 NW 15th Place
    Gainesville, FL 32606  
    Phone:  352-313-3060
    Fax:  352-313-3061
     
  • Dr. Katharine Starzel
    Veterinary Medical Officer
    USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services – International Import/Export Services
    c/o University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory
    1408 24th Street, S.E.
    Ruskin, FL 33570
    Phone: 813-671-5230 x114
    Fax:  813-671-5234
     
  • Miami Animal Import/Export Center
    USDA APHIS Veterinarian Services
    6300 NW 36th Street
    Miami, FL  33122
    Phone:  305-526-2926
    Fax:  305-526-2929

Step 5:

Most certificates are good for 30 days; however, some may be more restrictive, so make sure the shipment arrives at its final destination before the expiration of the certificate.  Schedule shipments appropriately; for example shipments destined for Asia should be scheduled to arrive no more than 28 days from the date of health inspection, since the local date of arrival will be ahead of that in the US.