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Addressing the Disease Challenge: A Holistic Approach from Benchmark Animal Health

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GLOBAL - Disease is one of the biggest challenges effecting the aquaculture industry and Benchmark Animal Health (BAH) is making it a priority to provide a holistic approach to addressing the challenge, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.

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This year Benchmark Holdings delivered its complete package at the Aqua Nor conference in Trondheim, Norway, 18- 21 August, with representatives from its diagnostics, breeding and genetics and research divisions all present.

Benchmark Holding’s work in aquaculture revolves around helping the industry become more sustainable, with the three E’s – Economics, Environment and Ethics – at its core.

In order to maintain these three E’s whilst also tackling the disease challenges that the industry faces, Benchmark Holding's has three divisions: breeding and genetics at SalmoBreed and Stofnfiskur, research and cleaner fish production at FAI Ardtoe Marine Research Facility and diagnostics and aquaculture health products at Fish Vet Group.

Breeding and Genetics

SalmoBreed is a family based breeding and genetics company that has broodstock facilities in Rogaland, Hordaland and Nordland, Norway.

Alongside Iceland’s Stofnfiskur, the company is part of Benchmark’s Breeding and Genetics (BBG) division, providing the aquaculture industry with salmon ova of high genetic quality with a focus on quality, growth and robustness.

“With our genetic material as a natural starting point of a production, our clients are well suited to produce a healthy and robust salmon,” said Rudi Ripman Seim, Product Manager, SalmoBreed.

Through careful and state of the art genetic selection, SalmoBreed has more than doubled the growth rate of its salmon since 1990. In relation to this, the company has also achieved better feed conversion.

“Double growth rate has been shown to reduce feed consumption by 30 per cent,” said Mr Seim.
“This is an important aspect of an even more sustainable salmon farming industry.”

Through this better growth rate, SalmoBreed is able to offer its clients reduced costs, increased profitability and better animal welfare.

Helping Improve Disease Resistance

In recent years, SalmoBreed has also been implementing marker assisted selection for several traits including Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) and Pancreas Disease (PD).

This encouraging work is helping to improve the disease resistance of Atlantic salmon to a number of diseases that are challenging the industry. PD, for example, has been causing big losses in the industry for a long time.

For PD, SalmoBreed has been able to identify a set of genetic markers that, together with in depth family information, is the background for its QTL PD product.

Six very good QTLs have been located and one of these was also found to be important for survival in tests on both fry and post-smolts, making this QTL unique.

This QTL was located on the salmon's third chromosome and explains a large proportion of the genetic variation found in the salmon genome for PD resistance.

Sea Lice Resistance

Sea lice is one of the biggest challenges to salmon farming.

In response to the challenge, SalmoBreed has been selecting fish for sea lice resistance since 2007.

“Our test shows that it is the same animal that has high/low lice in consecutive tests and that there is high variance from the best to the worst performing animals,” Mr Seim explained.

“In the first test we performed the average of the worst performing family was 89 sea lice per individual whereas the best family had only seven sea lice per individual.”

Based on this knowledge, the company has been able to choose the best families for further reproduction and the good results have been verified in their offspring.

“We are also on the doorstep of validating some new genetic markers that will further help fuel the selection of the best performing salmon for sea lice robustness,” Mr Seim stated.

Amoebic Gill Disease

As well as its work into sea lice and PD resistance, SalmoBreed is also currently looking into how genetics can be used to prevent Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD).

“We know that in AGD there is a strong genetic component. We have very high beliefs that the genetic approach will be one of a few tools that will prove to work well, but we are only in the R&D phase for this parasite,” said Mr Seim.


Heading up the diagnostics branch of Benchmark Animal Health at this year’s Aqua Nor conference is Fish Vet Group Norge – part of Fish Vet Group.

Fish Vet Group Norge is currently the only labratory in Norway that offers rapid turnaround histopathology alongside PCR, making it a leading aquaculture diagnostics service in the country.

PCR is one of the diagnostic services that Fish Vet Group was originally built on and by offering one, three or six day turnaround, the company provides a quick and reliable service to the aquaculture industry.

PCR is a diagnostic technique that allows for rapid detection of the presence of specific DNA by copying a single strand billions of times. Once copied these strands can be matched to specific pathogens allowing for highly targeted methods of treating disease. By detecting DNA fish farmers can apply specific treatments reducing the need for ‘blanket treatments’ or the use of excess products.

As well as offering diagnostics, Fish Vet Group, has a variety of fish health and vaccine products on offer. For more information on these products please visit

Cleaner Fish Production

In harmony with therapeutic medicines from FVG and genetic resistance from SalmoBreed, the FAI Ardtoe Marine Research Facility is also addressing the sea lice challenge through its cleaner fish production.

Cleanerfish, such as wrasse and lumpfish, are currently being used on salmon farms in Norway, Canada and Scotland as a more environmentally friendly way of reducing sea lice, and interest in using them is growing.

The research facility, based in Ardtoe Scotland, is producing lumpfish and wrasse for commercial sale. Their work in producing lumpfish sustainably has also reached a crucial milestone recently.

Dr Jim Treasurer, Research Director of FAI Aquaculture in Ardtoe, reported that the technology for hatchery rearing lumpsuckers has progressed well, with excellent survival and rapid growth from egg to stocking.

The major breakthrough came in May 2015, however, when Ardtoe researchers managed to get stocks of hatchery reared lumpsuckers to produce their first batch of viable eggs successfully.

Dr Treasurer noted that a key bottleneck in lumpfish production had been the need to collect eggs from wild adults captured when they enter inshore waters in spring to spawn.

Commenting on the closing of the lifecycle of lumpsuckers, the Managing Director of FAI Ardtoe, Dr Tim Atack, said: “Not only does this breakthrough make the large scale production of lumpsuckers more viable and sustainable, it has also opened up opportunities for us to work with our colleagues in Benchmark’s Breeding and Genetics and Animal Health divisions, to develop strains of lumpsuckers that are more resistant to disease, and better at cleaning lice.”

The lumpfish are now developing and growing well.

For more information on Benchmark and its companies, please go to

This article was taken from the August 2015 Sustainable Aquaculture Digital.

To sign up for the October 2015 edition, please click here.