Scottish consortiums seek to improve the gill health of farmed salmon

Published on
January 15, 2019

With gill challenges like amoebic gill disease (AGD) providing some of the Atlantic salmon farming industry’s most detrimental problems, two Scottish consortiums are embarking on initiatives to improve gill health and resilience in the species. 

The projects, valued at a combined GBP 3.5 million (USD 4.5 million, EUR 3.9 million), are backed by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and bring together expertise from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the Roslin Institute (part of the University of Edinburgh), salmon farming company Loch Duart, and salmon breeding business Landcatch Natural Selection.

Another 10 organizations, including The Scottish Salmon Company and Grieg Seafood Shetland, will also contribute to the consortiums. 

Their work will complement a GBP 800,000 (USD 1 million, EUR 896,770) 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 exploring 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.

The second project is analyzing the genetic characteristics that cause some salmon to be more vulnerable to gill disease. And SAIC said 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 metric tons (MT) and supported around 8,000 jobs across the country, with an overall value of more than GBP 1 billion (USD 1.3 billion, EUR 1.1 billion) to the economy. But 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.

According to Robin Shields, senior aquaculture innovation manager at SAIC, gill health ranks alongside sea lice as one of the biggest challenges facing salmon farming, and this is the case 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,” said Shields.

Giada Desperati, research and development coordinator at Loch Duart said that rising water temperature is adding to the gill challenges facing 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,” she said.

Image courtesy of SAIC

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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