An Innovative Approach to Fish Health Management in a Retail Environment
IAAAM Archive
Ruth Francis-Floyd1,2; Debbie Crain3; Denise Petty1,2; Greg Lewbart4; Doug Hardy5
1University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, FL, USA; 2University of Florida, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Gainesville, FL, USA; 3Bass Pro Shops, Sportsman's Park Center, Springfield, MO, USA; 4North Carolina State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Raleigh, NC, USA; 5James River Animal Hospital, Nixa, MO, USA


Professional health care for fish and lower vertebrates on public display is now considered the norm for the zoo and aquarium industry. Some facilities that display animals as part of their business lack sufficient exhibitry to justify having full time professional staff on payroll to care for these animals. Bass Pro Shops is an example of a company that displays fish and, in some locations, game birds, snakes and turtles, for the public visiting their retail stores. The company has a strong conservation ethic, but exhibits at many stores are limited to one large aquarium (average size 20,000 gal) and therefore are not extensive enough to justify hiring a full-time aquarist, much less a staff veterinarian. There are currently 40 stores in the Bass Pro Shops system and of these only 5 have sufficient live exhibits to justify full-time staff on site. This presentation describes a management strategy that is working well to deliver state-of-the-art health care to many animals in a geographically dispersed retail environment.

The Live Exhibits team is led by a manager at the company headquarters in Springfield, MO who oversees quarantine and coordinates examination and care of all animals. The Springfield staff has advanced training in fish health management which includes significant experience with anesthesia, examination procedures including biopsy, local and long-distance transport, and advanced nursing care. Veterinary care for animals in Springfield is supervised by a local veterinarian, who consults on a case by case basis with contract specialists as needed. The Springfield facility is equipped with a major quarantine system for both freshwater and saltwater species, and has full hospital capabilities. Fish from the entire network can be shipped to and from Springfield in specially designed transport units that move with merchandise on company trucks.

Aquarists are hired for each retail location, either as a contractor or as company staff. In many cases, contract aquarists have been preferable because of the experience they bring to the job. Challenges with contract aquarists include diverse experience and, in some cases, difficulty adapting to company protocols. Each store is assigned to a diagnostic facility, either at the University of Florida or North Carolina State University. The live exhibits manager and staff coordinate diagnostic support to individual stores and their aquarists, and issue treatment authorizations as directed by veterinary staff. Aquarists cannot medicate fish without a treatment authorization. Diagnostic support is provided through fish disease laboratories located at the University of Florida and North Carolina State University. Lab responsibilities include monitoring animals at assigned retail locations and providing diagnostic support to those in quarantine. Monitoring is largely done by necropsy of moribund animals or those which die in various locations. Non-lethal diagnostics are carried out on a regular basis for animals in quarantine or hospitalized in Springfield. Results of these diagnostic tests are assessed by veterinarians through consultation with live exhibits staff. Non-lethal procedures are carried out on select valuable specimens at other retail locations through use of local veterinarians, in consultation with specialists. Live exhibits staff frequently flies from Springfield to the site where this work is needed to work directly with the local veterinarian. A contract veterinarian in Springfield specialized in avian and reptile medicine oversees hospital procedures for all cases in Springfield and consults with fish disease specialists as needed. The entire team works together to ensure that the best possible care is provided to all animals regardless of where they are housed.

Since this program has been established, several hundred cases have been submitted to the fish disease diagnostic laboratories. Common problems have included Mycobacterium, and parasitic diseases. Many of these have been addressed through changes in system design, quarantine protocol and improvements in handling and transportation. Less common problems have included foreign body ingestion, neoplasia, and occasional environmental and nutritional diseases. A hallmark of the Bass Pro Shops exhibits is the presence of large, trophy-sized game fish, which has necessitated development of husbandry practices that provide special care for geriatric specimens.

The Bass Pro Shops team approach to care of animals in their retail environment is innovative but has required significant investment from the company. Many of the practices currently in place have been developed by experimenting with different approaches to veterinary care. The current system is working well, but continues to be modified based on the experience of the staff, the needs of the animals, and a collective willingness to meet new challenges head-on as they become apparent.


The authors thank Mrs. Dan Hoy, Blayke Michaels, Shane Christian, and Drs. Lara Croft, Jan Raines, and David Specht. Staff support from Jamie Holloway, Tina Crosby, and Matt DiMaggio is also greatly appreciated.

Speaker Information
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Ruth Francis-Floyd, DVM, MS, DACZM
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences
Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL, USA

Debbie Crain

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