FISH GET sick, too. What to do? In Arkansas you seek help from the state's only source of diagnostic assistance — the Fish Disease Diagnostic Laboratories operated by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Diagnostic laboratory services are available to Arkansas fish farmers, owners of private lakes and ponds, state agencies and anybody else with fish health-related problems.

Three diagnostic laboratories make up the network of diagnostic laboratories operated as part of the UAPB Cooperative Extension Program. A fourth one will be located in northern Arkansas.

The lab in Lonoke, Ark., specializes in baitfish and ornamentals while the Lake Village, Ark., lab specializes in catfish. The Pine Bluff, Ark., lab handles all species and is responsible for virology and histopathology. It is the only lab in the southeastern United States and only one in five nationwide that is approved by USDA-APHIS to inspect fish for export.

Last year the Lake Village lab processed 450 disease cases and analyzed 800 water samples. Some 173 disease cases were processed at Pine Bluff. The Lonoke lab handled 1,183 disease cases and 1,180 water quality samples.

Andrew Goodwin directs the UAPB fish disease diagnostic program, which has resulted in significant savings to farmers. The value of the fish in a single commercial aquaculture pond may exceed $100,000. Timely and accurate disease diagnosis is critical.

A mail-in diagnostic program is in place in selected counties for farmers living outside the major fish producing areas. County Extension offices have shipping containers, and agents are trained in the proper packaging of fish samples, which are then shipped to the lab.

Results of water quality analysis and examination for parasites are usually complete within a few hours of receipt and frequently done on a “while you wait” basis. Bacterial cultures take two to five days while viral cultures take four to 21 days depending on the virus.