Wrasse project boost for salmon industry

THE Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) has launched a £4 million applied research project to upscale the use of farmed wrasse in commercial salmon farms.

The scheme, now rolling out on Scotland’s west coast, has the potential to increase productivity on salmon farms and reduce the use of medicines in the industry.

With the details agreed, the project team can set about taking validated lab research through to full application in the commercial environment.

The deployment of farmed wrasse to control sea lice on farms could lead to the creation of new jobs in rural communities, not just in salmon production, but in wrasse production and management.

Wrasse can co-habit with salmon in the same pens and can be used as ‘cleaner fish’ to remove sea lice from the salmon.

The SAIC has awarded grant funding of £831,530 to this cleaner fish project. The grant has leveraged contributions worth £3.01 million from Marine Harvest (Scotland), Scottish Sea Farms, BioMar, and the University of Stirling.

Atlantic salmon is the UK’s largest food export, with a retail value of over £1 billion.

With demand for Scottish salmon increasing in traditional markets such as the US and France, and emerging export markets such as China, the Scottish Government has set increased production targets for 2020.

Progress on the use of cleaner fish such as wrasse and lumpfish to control sea lice on fish farms will support the industry’s work to raise production.

Cohabitation of salmon with cleaner fish, especially wrasse, has been shown to significantly reduce the sea lice challenge to salmon – an issue that has hampered growth in the industry.

It can also help to reduce the usage of licensed anti-lice medicines on farms.

The previous use of wrasse in fish farms has largely involved the collection of wild wrasse, a solution which is not sustainable.

However, the culture of wrasse is in its infancy in the UK, and production challenges have limited the deployment of farmed wrasse.

This project brings together the academics leading wrasse research in the UK with major salmon producers to solve the bottlenecks limiting productivity, and to improve the quality and delousing efficacy of farmed wrasse.

Building on proof of concept established in previous research, the SAIC project will extend current knowledge through to upscaling of hatchery technologies, optimisation of cleaner fish welfare in salmon cages, and prototyping in the commercial environment.

Project outcomes will include commercial protocols, research tools and a new knowledge of the biology of the ballan wrasse.

This will permit production of a handbook that individual farmers in Scotland can use as a beginning-to-end guide on the breeding and husbandry of farmed wrasse.

Heather Jones (pictured), CEO of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, said: ‘The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre’s role is to bring industry and academia together to help grow the industry sustainably through innovation.

‘This project exactly fits that bill; sea lice control heads SAIC’s list of Priority Innovation Areas. Our grant funding has galvanised an industry-academic collaboration that not only leverages substantial investment, but will feed into Scottish economic growth.’

Steve Bracken, business support manager at Marine Harvest (Scotland), said: ‘The deployment of wrasse as a means to control sea lice should increase the availability of farm sites, reduce medication costs and increase production efficiency.

‘All parts of the industry – from large companies such as ourselves, to SMEs – will see benefits from this, and the already excellent reputation of Scottish salmon will be enhanced.’

And the academic lead on the project team, Hervé Migaud, professor in fish physiology and director of research at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, said: ‘The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre’s support and funding will enable us to extend this project from proof of concept to the commercial environment.

‘The impact of the research will be considerable in both scientific and economic terms.

‘In addition, PhD and masters students at the Institute of Aquaculture have the opportunity to gain research expertise in one of the aquaculture industry’s most pressing issues.’

 

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4 responses to “Wrasse project boost for salmon industry”

  1. Niall McKillop says:

    The old wrasse chestnut rears its head again. Last week they were asking engineers to find a solution and this week it’s back to wrasse again for about the tenth time in the last fifteen years or so. It will not be a boost for the salmon farming industry but yet another diverting tactic from the real problem – net cages don’t and can’t work – closed containment is the only proven solution to all these problems.

    • Piscivore says:

      Unfortunately the elephant in the room with closed containment is that you are effectively running a sewage treatment plant with fish holding tanks attached. The fish flesh becomes tainted by the presence of breakdown products from the wastes in the closed system. This taint is not harmful or even particularly offensive and taste testing shows that the fish is acceptable to consumers. The exception being in comparison to fish produced in open systems whose flesh is manifestly superior.

      • Niall McKillop says:

        I agree with everything you say up until your final sentence, but I think you’re talking about about breakdown products within closed containment in standard, circular or rectangular tanks. There’s no reason why that should be the case and that breakdown products should be allowed to build up. In terms of your last sentence I simply don’t agree that it’s acceptable to call the flesh of farmed fish superior to anything. If closed containment systems are used as tools for flesh improvement there can be items such as variable water speeds and currents in place which will mimic as far as possible natural conditions: net cage pens can never do that and if you look at a sample of harvested fish from a net cage system you will see the result – quite apart from all the sea lice, that is.

  2. Closed containment would solve all of the management and environmental problems associated with rearing salmon at sea in nets (except the fish content of the feed, which is being worked on). Tank systems have to be the answer to marine pollution (that would equal the entire sewage of Scotland if it were similarly dumped at sea untreated), pests and diseases that affect both farmed and wild fishes and a host of totally unacceptable environmental impacts that are inexplicably considered ‘allowable’ by SNH & SEPA. Currently, some aquaculture companies are taking thousands of wild wrasse out of the sea, failing to control sea lice on their farms and then killing them all ‘because of regulations’. Has anybody examined the effects of this practice on wrasse populations in e.g. Wester Ross? Does anybody care? With closed containment systems, there would no longer be a sea lice problem (wild salmonid stocks might recover), no need for wrasse (assuming they actually do what is hoped for) and fish waste could be recycled as fertiliser, making vegetable food, or – new technology that is making millions for some enlightened entrepreneurs – converted into methane to make power. All that would make clean salmon, create new jobs – politically expedient! – and generate additional profit for aquaculture companies. It’s a no-brainer.

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