Eyes on the target

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Technology and innovation are key for the sector’s future, but we must not lose sight of the ‘why’, as Heather Jones explains

Scotland is a nation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs. We have a thriving start-up scene and new ideas are brought to various sectors almost daily as a result of support from a range of organisations, including business support agencies, funding vehicles and innovation centres.

It is seen as a great place to do business and start new ventures, and has a pool of successful innovative start-ups to prove it. A report from YFM Equity Partners, published earlier this year, found that Scotland’s business survival rates were the third highest of all UK nations and regions analysed, with more than two-fifths (41%) of firms still actively trading five years after launching.

Particularly in the aquaculture sector, other countries are beginning to see Scotland as an example of innovation best practice. Programmes such as the Blue Bridge initiative – aimed at Chilean companies looking to expand their operations and bring ground-breaking innovations to the UK – are a fantastic opportunity to transfer knowledge and technology breakthroughs. Trade events including the Seafood Expo Global, Aquaculture UK and Aqua Nor also offer a valuable international stage on which to showcase Scotland’s success.

Since it was formed 10 years ago, SAIC has been at the centre of several key developments, contributing to over 100 different innovation projects, all focused on supporting the sustainable growth of Scotland’s important aquaculture sector. The research it has supported now totals over £70m in overall value and our membership consortium includes over 360 different organisations. We have facilitated collaboration between sector experts and academics – with a particular focus on fish health, and understanding and mitigating environmental impacts – all helping to solve critical challenges and take ideas one stage closer to commercialisation.

Among the ideas supported by SAIC are several examples of technologies, initially developed to support Scottish seafood production, now making waves internationally with the potential to impact other branches of the blue economy, agriculture, life sciences and environmental monitoring. These include the work of OTAQ, with its Live Plankton Analysis System (LPAS), Tritonia Scientific’s 3-D seabed modelling, and many more.

The use of technology across all aspects of aquaculture is fast becoming the norm. However, as the speed of adoption only increases, we cannot afford to lose sight of why we are doing this.

Innovation is not an end in itself, nor is technology development. The ultimate focus must be on rearing fish sustainably. So, how do we best do this? By combining biology and technology, rolling out best practices in farming, optimising fish health and welfare, and reducing the impacts of disease threats.

Tied to this, we have a renewed focus for SAIC, homing in on fish health R&D, that is aligned to the Scottish Government’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework. The goal is to build on the innovation achieved over the past decade and sharpen our focus on driving positive health and welfare outcomes for farmed fish.

Technology can offer solutions to biological and environmental challenges faced by the fish themselves and those who farm them. It can be an enabler for increasing capacity, by providing insights that unlock improved ways of farming. However, the needs of our livestock and other marine life must be at the heart of R&D projects designed to work with the grain of fish biology.

All successful R&D adoption requires patience, persistence and practical application. It takes time, especially when the biology and growth cycle of live animals is involved. There are many exciting opportunities to use technology, from robotics to data analytics, to improve the sustainable farming of finfish. SAIC hopes to continue supporting the Scottish industry with applied R&D that complements and enhances our understanding of fish biology and the natural marine ecosystem. Ultimately, we need to understand how technology and biology work together if we are to improve fish health and welfare.

Heather Jones is CEO of the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).

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