A £3.5 million research initiative has been launched in Scotland to improve the health of farmed salmon, it was announced today.
Two Scottish consortiums, backed by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), are embarking on projects to improve gill health and resilience in salmon.
The first study will explore the factors that can cause gill damage or disease to occur – such as the local environment, water quality and temperatures, as well as nutrition, farming practices, and equipment – while also examining how better to prevent and control the condition.
And the second project will analyse the genetic characteristics which cause some salmon to be more vulnerable to gill disease.
The results could allow the aquaculture industry to breed fish with enhanced resilience to gill infections and other health issues, such as sea lice.
The research will bring together the expertise of a range of businesses and academic institutions, led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC); the Roslin Institute (part of the University of Edinburgh); salmon farmer Loch Duart; and Landcatch Natural Selection, part of Hendrix Genetics.
Another 10 organisations, including the Scottish Salmon Company and Grieg Seafood Shetland, will also contribute to the work.
Robin Shields, senior aquaculture innovation manager at SAIC, said: ‘Gill health is up there with sea lice as one of the biggest challenges facing salmon farming, not only in Scotland, but across all salmon producing countries.
‘This is an internationally significant issue, which we’re aiming to address through this focused effort from some of the top minds in the field.
‘The health of a fish’s gills is absolutely critical to its overall wellbeing. The outcomes we are looking for from these projects are to help provide the industry with the knowledge and tools it needs to manage and control outbreaks, and – further down the line – to prevent disease as far as we can by breeding fish with greater natural resistance.’
Giada Desperati, research and development coordinator at Loch Duart, said: ‘Rising water temperature is adding to the gill challenges facing our salmon.
‘Ensuring the best possible health and welfare for our fish is massively important to our company. Not only is Loch Duart investing heavily in new technology to counteract this problem, but we welcome with open arms the opportunity to work together with other salmon farmers on this important health issue.’
Alastair Hamilton, senior geneticist at Landcatch Natural Selection, added: “Amoebic gill disease (AGD) is emerging as one of the most important challenges to the salmon industry worldwide, with treatment costs presenting a substantial financial burden to the industry.
‘Since introducing genomic selection as a means to enhance resistance to AGD in 2014, Hendrix Genetics has demonstrated that the use of this technology can substantially accelerate genetic progress compared to conventional breeding programs, with evidence suggesting gains are both cumulative and permanent.
‘A significant constraint on wider deployment of this technology is the cost of genotyping. Although Hendrix Genetics has introduced innovations to tackle this, cost remains a significant obstacle.
‘In this project, we will develop and apply methods to further improve the cost-efficiency and the accuracy of selection for disease resistance.
‘The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, and Landcatch have an exemplary track record in collaborating to develop industry relevant innovations, and we believe that progress achieved through this project will be of benefit across the salmon industry in Scotland and beyond.’
Picture: Robin Shields of SAIC