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Aquatic Animal Health Expert Joins School

September 15, 2015

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Dr. Esteban Soto will work with aquaculture and wild fish industries

September 15, 2015

Dr. Esteban Soto, the school’s newest faculty member focused on aquaculture, became interested in aquatic animal health when studying veterinary medicine in Costa Rica. In 2002 the country experienced an outbreak of Francisella noatunensis that caused mass mortality in its tilapia fish population. With a background in veterinary microbiology, Soto had the opportunity to identify and focus his research in understanding and finding solutions to this emerging disease that impacted Costa Rica’s large tilapia fish export market.

As Associate Professor of Aquatic Animal Health at the school’s Department of Medicine & Epidemiology, Soto will work directly with the aquaculture and wild fish industries to improve the development and management of aquatic food animals with responsible and environmentally friendly practices. For example, through a grant with the U.S. Forest Service, he and his partners are working on a project in Plumas National Forest to study fish pathogen loads in different locations, better understand the effects of environmental stress on aquatic organisms and develop methods to prevent disease outbreaks.

Soto also supports the school’s teaching hospital’s Aquatic Animal Health Services by raising fish health awareness and providing infectious disease and pathology services through contracts with government fish and wildlife conservation agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Helping the School Respond to Growing Trends in Aquaculture

Aquaculture - the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants for food – is one of a range of technologies to meet increasing global demand for seafood, support commercial and recreational fisheries and restore species and marine habitat. In recent years, it’s become one of the fastest-growing areas of the agriculture sector and global food production, as consumer demand for fish as a healthy food product and protein source increases.

According to Soto, aquaculture also plays a role in a holistic ‘one health’ approach that links human, animal and environmental health.  He cites importance of investigating emergent zoonotic pathogens that are found in aquatic environments and can infect fish, invertebrates, marine mammals - and humans.

“I look forward to collaborating with our partners to explore zoonotic pathogens that utilize aquatic environments,” said Soto, who represents academia and promotes aquatic animal health nationally through the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Future school projects to support the aquaculture industry could include focusing on global fungus and bacteria affecting the state’s salmon and sturgeon population; supporting the growing trend of the aquaponics industry; partnering with aquariums across the state to encourage training positions for fellowships and residencies; and conducting research to better develop the industry’s management and biosecurity plans.

In his leisure time, Soto prefers recreational diving and surfing to fishing and has a pet dog. His favorite fish to eat is salmon and he believes the zebrafish will be the next ‘mouse model’ for investigating human disease.

You can learn more about the Aquatic Health Services at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine by visiting