A new project will look at the geographical, temporal, and nutritional factors that affect gill health. Photo: SAIC.

Study seeks best conditions for gill health

A project aimed at discovering the best site conditions and diet for the prevention of gill disease in farmed salmon is being undertaken by a research group in Scotland.

Published Last updated

The consortium – which comprises of Scottish Sea Farms, the University of Aberdeen, Marine Scotland Science, feed producer BioMar, and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) – is exploring the geographical, temporal, and nutritional factors that affect gill health across sites in Scotland and Tasmania, Australia.

Warming seas and the progressive de-oxygenation of water, caused by climate change, are reinforcing the need for a greater understanding of gill disease, along with its prevention and treatment.

Optimum balance

Gill health is understood to be influenced by a broad set of factors – ranging from site-specific variables and fish diet, to water temperature and oxygenation levels. The £600,000, year-long project will aim to find the optimum balance for each measure to promote good health and improve natural resistance to gill conditions among salmon, said SAIC in a press release.

It will also create a set of biomarkers to monitor gill disease; develop new diagnostic tools that could minimise individual interpretation of results; and explore the production of feeds to alleviate poor gill health. 

Ralph Bickerdike: Project will explore how key factors of gill disease impact on one another.

Holistic view

Scottish Sea Farms’ head of fish health, Dr Ralph Bickerdike, said: “What’s exciting about this latest collaborative research project is that it takes a holistic view, exploring not just the key factors affecting the gills but also how they might impact on one another, helping us to identify the best growing conditions for farmed fish health.”

Professor Samuel Martin from the University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences said that as well as being a key organ with roles in oxygen exchange, the gill also has extremely important function for fish health. 

“In recent years there is a recognition that new research in gills needs carried out, particularly in marine stage salmon,” said Martin.” This project, working directly with industry, will help define how gill health varies between farm sites and at different times of the year. The outcomes will lead to better understanding and early warning for gill health issues.” 

New feeds

The research will support the Scottish Government’s 10-Year Farmed Fish Health Framework.

It will include analysis of information from Tasmania, where rising sea temperatures have made gill health a serious problem. 

Caroline Griffin, aquaculture innovation manager at SAIC, said: “The project is about finding a way of using the vast amounts of data collected to create the right balance of conditions for salmon, enhancing their resilience.

“On top of that, the development of biomarkers and new feeds could act as a significant boost to fish health and wellbeing, and our overall understanding of this complex disease.”