SSF hopes ‘home-grown’ eggs will mean healthier fish

Incubation Unit, Barcaldine Hatchery

Scottish Sea Farms is set to take delivery of the first batch of salmon eggs grown from selected stock from its own marine farms.

The company hopes that the “home-grown” eggs will produce a more robust generation of salmon, better able to cope with climate change and with marine conditions in Scotland.

The Scottish salmon industry typically imports salmon eggs which are then grown in freshwater hatcheries. For the Barcaldine hatchery, Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) has been working with breeding specialists AquaGen to select from the best performing stock at SSF’s own farms.

Scottish Sea Farms Head of Fish Welfare Dr Ralph Bickerdike said: “Ultimately, we’re seeking to match the right stock to the right conditions in order to maximise fish welfare. As climate conditions continue to change – and with it, the marine environment – we’re acting now to help ensure future stocks can withstand those changes.”

The initiative aims to maximise fish welfare once at sea, by improving overall robustness to Scottish marine conditions and increasing resistance to the health challenges that the changing environment can give rise to – in particular, gill health which is now thought to be one of the biggest challenges facing farmed salmon globally.

Bickerdike said: “Climate change presents challenges to livestock farmers of all kinds. For salmon farmers, this summer’s record high temperatures and lower than average rainfall have given rise to increased incidence of gill health issues.

“At some farms, fish stocks have been able to overcome such challenges and bounce back to full health. At other individual farms, we’ve seen significant losses, indicating that some salmon are naturally more resistant than others.”

AquaGen Scotland Managing Director Andrew Reeve said: “Stock selection is an ongoing process. Just as the climate continues to change, so too does the best breeding to withstand those changes.

“Having selected the best performing fish from Scottish Sea Farms marine farms, we’re now able to apply the latest technologies and approaches to identify the key traits that have helped these superior grade fish continue to thrive in the Scottish marine environment.”

AquaGen and SSF hope to collect a set of genomic data as soon as three years from now, that will help to identify genetic traits that can improve survival rates.

The two companies are also collaborating with the University of Aberdeen, feed specialists BioMar, Marine Scotland Science and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre to increase understanding of how seasonality and location influence gill health and how farmed salmon respond to these challenges.

SSF said the insights into breeding for improved resistance to gill health challenges will be shared with other producers of farmed salmon, in Scotland and overseas.

Meanwhile, the first eggs bred from SSF salmon are due to be delivered to Barcaldine Hatchery in early 2022 and are scheduled to be transferred as smolts to the company’s marine farms around Scotland’s west coast and Northern Isles from Q1 2023.