Around half of all the fish we eat is farmed: this includes salmon, trout; crustaceans, such as crabs, lobsters, crayfish; as well as molluscs, like mussels, oysters and scallops. This figure is set to rise to nearly two-thirds by 2030 as catches from wild fisheries start to level off.
The aquaculture industry has the potential to match the shortfall between supply and demand while reducing pressure on wild fisheries. But, if the industry is to expand sustainably, we need a better understanding of the basic biology and health of farmed fish, as well as its effects on the environment.
The UK Aquaculture Initiative, funded by NERC and the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will support research and innovation, and encourage researchers and UK industry to work together. Cefas, Marine Scotland Science, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland will co-fund the initiative, and a consortium of leading companies, including Marine Harvest, EWOS and Zoetis will be closely involved.
£6m will be available to support innovative projects that will help solve the challenges facing the industry, including efficiency, productivity and sustainability.
The initiative will invest in collaborative, pre-competitive, relevant research, and will break down barriers between academia and industry, by highlighting the benefits of collaboration such as access to data, skills, facilities and cutting-edge research.
The aim of today's event was to build relationships between the different sections of the growing aquaculture research community.
Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC chief executive, said: "Our investment in this vital part of the UK food industry is needed to promote collaborative working between researchers and the seafood industry to ensure it is sustainable. The initiative will demonstrate how the research community can underpin the long-term needs of industry through interdisciplinary research, research translation and the provision of training."
Charlotte Maddocks, Aquaculture lead from Tesco, said: "This is a fantastic initiative which encourages innovation and collaboration between retailers, researchers and industry experts across British aquaculture, which is key to the success of providing the best possible quality and sustainable seafood for customers."
The scheme will include two components: networks, and a portfolio of collaborative research and innovation projects.
NERC and BBSRC will invite proposals for two networks in finfish and in shellfish. Network proposals, led by one or two academic principal investigators, will be assessed through peer-review. Each network will have an advisory panel made up of industry and academics to ensure the network fulfils the needs of both communities. The networks will be responsible for developing a research and innovation strategy which will inform a programme of funding for collaborative research.
NERC and BBSRC will also invest in innovation projects that use or translate existing NERC and BBSRC-remit data and knowledge into tools, technologies and approaches to meet a specific aquaculture industry need or issue.
In 2010, a NERC-funded environmental modelling tool, AutoDEPOMOD, led to an extra £79m a year output from Scottish fish-farms. This tool has been essential in helping the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences to secure grant licences at more sites and for larger farms.
The new initiative builds on a capacity-building aquaculture call in October 2014, which aimed to deliver bioscience and environmental research projects in seven priority areas, as well as expanding the uptake and development of novel tools, methods and technologies.