Aquaculture for all

Investment is key for tackling gill health issues

Atlantic Salmon Technology & equipment +2 more

Scottish Sea Farms is set to take delivery of a £1.9 million workboat in a bid to increase response times to gill health issues across its sites.

The move for the purpose-built boat is part of a concerted drive by the salmon grower to boost fish welfare and survival, and follows on from its £750,000 investment in two gill health-related research projects.



The Fair Isle will service Scottish Sea Farms’ more northerly regions, delivering proactive, preventative veterinary treatment for gill health issues as they emerge.

This, in turn, will enable the company’s existing workboat, the Sally Ann, to dedicate itself to the company’s mainland farms, ensuring faster response times across the estate.

The company’s head of fish welfare, Dr Ralph Bickerdike, said: “Recent years have seen significant investment in the surveillance of fish health and the farming environment, with water quality monitored on a daily basis and gill health routinely assessed by our farmers to detect any challenges and highlight where pre-emptive action is needed.

“Having a second dedicated workboat takes this ‘prevention over cure’ approach a key step further, enabling us to administer the best veterinary care at the earliest opportunity.”

Gill health is thought to be one of the biggest challenges facing salmon producers around the world, and as such is recognised by Scotland’s 10-year Farmed Fish Health Framework as a priority area for action.

Bickerdike reflects that: “Typically, summer is the most challenging time of year for any salmon farmer, as organisms in the marine environment grow more rapidly, posing increased risk to gill health. However, summer 2019 has been particularly challenging, with an increased number of our farms experiencing gill health issues that have impacted on fish growth and survival.

“The ongoing priority is to prevent gill health from ever becoming such an issue. Investing in our ability to respond swiftly with the addition of the Fair Isle is an integral part of that strategy.”

Due into service in early 2020, the Fair Isle is the latest in a series of investments in gill health by Scottish Sea Farms.

Other advances in this area include:

  • Installing environmental monitoring equipment and underwater cameras at every farm for earlier detection of potential risks or emerging health issues.
  • Contributing £750,000 to two gill-health related applied research projects in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen, BioMar and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) aimed at identifying the key risk factors and how to pre-empt and avoid them.
  • Partnering a new PhD in collaboration with Mowi, the University of Glasgow and SAIC to develop new technologies for identifying and quantifying potentially harmful organisms within the marine environment.

Bickerdike adds: “When it comes to fish health issues of any kind, pursuing prevention over cure has undoubtedly made a positive difference, helping us achieve 88 per cent fish survival at sea in 2019 to date, despite the challenges experienced this summer. Clearly though, there’s still more to be learned as we strive to boost survival rates further and ensure that farmed fish have the best possible lives while in our care.”