SRUC researchers have received funding to improve gill health and resilience among farmed Atlantic salmon – one of the industry’s most significant challenges.
Two Scottish consortiums, backed by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), are embarking on ambitious initiatives, valued at a combined £3.5 million, to tackle the problem.
The projects will bring together the expertise of a range of world-renowned businesses and academic institutions, led by SRUC; the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute; Loch Duart, an independent salmon farming company; and Landcatch Natural Selection, a leading salmon breeding business and part of Hendrix Genetics.
Another ten organisations, including The Scottish Salmon Company and Grieg Seafood Shetland, will also contribute to the two consortiums. Their work will complement an £800,000 SAIC co-funded project announced in April 2018, which is aiming to develop new feeds to promote salmon health and devise diagnostic tools for monitoring gill health.
Combining the consortium’s expertise, skills, and data, the first project is taking an innovative and unique approach to explore the factors which 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.
The second of the new projects is analysing 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.
Scotland is the third largest producer of salmon in the world, according to recent figures from the Scottish Government. In 2017 the industry produced 189,707 tonnes and supported around 8,000 across the country, with an overall value of more than £1 billion to the economy.
However, in the last few years, impaired gill health has become a major challenge in an ever-changing natural environment, accounting for substantial losses of fish.
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 focussed 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.”