The new project, now rolling out on Scotland’s West Coast, has the potential to increase productivity on salmon farms and reduce the use of medicines in the industry.
With the project agreement in place, the project team can set about taking validated lab research through to full application in the commercial environment.
The deployment of farmed wrasse to control sea lice on farms could lead to the creation of new jobs in rural communities, not just in salmon production, but in wrasse production and management.
Wrasse can co-habit with salmon in the same pens and can be used as ‘cleaner fish’ to remove sea lice from the salmon.
The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) has awarded grant funding of £831,530 to this cleaner fish project. The grant has leveraged contributions worth £3.01 million from Marine Harvest (Scotland), Scottish Sea Farms, BioMar, and the University of Stirling.
Atlantic salmon is the UK’s largest food export, with a retail value of over £1bn. With demand for Scottish salmon increasing in traditional markets such as the US and France, and emerging export markets such as China, the Scottish Government has set increased production targets for 2020.
Progress on the use of cleaner fish such as wrasse and lumpfish to control sea lice on fish farms will support the industry’s work to raise production.
Cohabitation of salmon with cleaner fish, especially wrasse, has been shown to significantly reduce the sea lice challenge to salmon – an issue that has hampered growth in the industry. It can also help to reduce the usage of licensed anti-lice medicines on farms.
The previous use of wrasse in fish farms has largely involved the collection of wild wrasse, a solution which is not sustainable. However, the culture of wrasse is in its infancy in the UK, and production challenges have limited the deployment of farmed wrasse.
This project brings together academics leading wrasse research in the UK with major salmon producers to solve the bottlenecks limiting productivity, and to improve the quality and delousing efficacy of farmed wrasse.
Building on proof of concept established in previous research, the SAIC project will extend current knowledge through to upscaling of hatchery technologies; optimisation of cleaner fish welfare in salmon cages; and prototyping in the commercial environment.
Project outcomes will include commercial protocols, research tools and a new knowledge of the biology of the ballan wrasse. This will permit production of a handbook that individual farmers in Scotland, including small and medium-sized enterprises, can use as a beginning-to-end guide on the breeding and husbandry of farmed wrasse.
Heather Jones, CEO of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, said: “The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre’s role is to bring industry and academia together to help grow the industry sustainably through innovation.
"This project exactly fits that bill; sea lice control heads SAIC’s list of Priority Innovation Areas. Our grant funding has galvanised an industry-academic collaboration that not only leverages substantial investment, but will feed into Scottish economic growth.”
Steve Bracken, Business Support Manager at Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd, added: “The deployment of wrasse as a means to control sea lice should increase the availability of farm sites, reduce medication costs and increase production efficiency.
"All parts of the industry – from large companies such as ourselves, to SMEs - will see benefits from this, and the already-excellent reputation of Scottish salmon will be enhanced.”
The academic lead on the project team, Professor Hervé Migaud, Professor in Fish Physiology and Director of Research at Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, commented: “The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre’s support and funding will enable us to extend this project from proof of concept to the commercial environment.
"The impact of the research will be considerable in both scientific and economic terms. In addition, PhD and Masters students at the Institute of Aquaculture have the opportunity to gain research expertise in one of the aquaculture industry’s most pressing issues.”