Aqualife, a Stirlingshire business which vaccinates over 100 million fish a year, has received funding from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre for a research project to develop new fish vaccination techniques for species of lumpfish and wrasse.
The project could lead to significant production growth in the salmon industry in Scotland, the creation of new jobs, a more sustainable industry, and decreased use of medicines.
Demand in the salmon industry in Scotland for cleaner-fish species such as wrasse and lumpfish is high, due to recent research demonstrating their success in sea lice control. Providing sufficient cleaner-fish for the industry requires a major boost in production of robust cleaner-fish that can operate effectively throughout the salmon growth cycle.
The novel welfare-friendly techniques proposed by the project team could step up the survivability and robustness of lumpsucker and wrasse species, and help to upscale the effectiveness of cleaner-fish on farms. Project outcomes should include new protocols for vaccination methods for different lumpfish methods, and new vaccination devices for cleaner-fish.
This project is co-funded by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and also involves major salmon producer Scottish Sea Farms and researchers at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, the leading aquaculture research and teaching hub in the UK. Scottish Sea Farms will provide access to a range of its marine sites across Orkney, Shetland and the mainland for research to be carried out.
In keeping with SAIC’s principle of open knowledge exchange, the results of the project will be made available to Scottish stakeholders.
The 18-month project rolls out in August, supported by a grant of £117,000 from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), launched in 2014 by the Scottish Government, to harness the strength of Scotland’s research base and natural resources. SAIC’s grant has been matched with £168,400 from the other partners involved, who are keen to work together to address aquaculture’s key issues and opportunities.
SAIC is driving progress in the aquaculture sector in Scotland by instigating and accelerating innovative commercially-relevant solutions intended to lead to wealth creation, new jobs and economic growth. Top of its list of priorities is sea lice control, and the Aqualife project is part of a suite of activities being rolled out by SAIC to tackle the issue.
These include a grant earlier this year to a £4 million project to upscale the deployment of farmed wrasse, and invitations for project applications involving lumpfish or engineering-based solutions. A number of innovative project ideas are currently under consideration.
Heather Jones, CEO of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, stated: “This cleaner-fish vaccination project exemplifies the way SAIC is galvanising researchers to collaborate with SMEs and multinationals on innovative projects that will benefit the industry and the Scottish and UK economy. It’s estimated that each additional 10,000 tonnes of salmon that reaches the market creates an additional £96 million for the economy. This project that we’re co-funding has hugely exciting potential to contribute to wealth creation.”
Professor Jimmy Turnbull, Deputy Director of the Institute of Aquaculture, added: “This project will deliver valuable new insights into cleaner-fish physiologies and welfare, and define optimal vaccination protocols for cleaner-fish species. As well as helping the industry comply with the requirements of Quality Assurance schemes, our work will support the sector’s commitment to welfare and sustainability.”
One additional planned outcome of Aqualife’s project is a new vaccination device based on a prototype the company has developed for salmon. The plan is to adapt the device for the anatomy and physiology of different lumpfish and wrasse species.
This, believes Ronnie Soutar, Managing Director of Aqualife, could pave the way for further adaptations of the device for use on other farmed non-salmonid species such as Mediterranean bass and bream, Asian catfish or North African tilapia.
Soutar explains: “We see a huge market opportunity in the development of vaccination devices and machine vaccination programmes. We want to be able to go to any farm or sector and say we can deliver a programme suitable for the physiology and welfare of the fish. This current cleaner-fish project, with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, the University of Stirling and Scottish Sea Farms, represents a step towards that goal.
“By supporting innovative projects like this one, SAIC is delivering invaluable support for the sustainability and ambitions of companies in our sector, including the potential for major international exports.”