From left: Matt Geen of Matt Geen Consulting; Stuart Ferguson, Aqua Pharma; Ashleigh Kitchiner, APEM; Stephen Mark, S and A Techs; Steve Ellis, Industrial Noise & Vibration Centre; Ian Jamieson, Pulcea, at the trial site.
From left: Matt Geen of Matt Geen Consulting; Stuart Ferguson, Aqua Pharma; Ashleigh Kitchiner, APEM; Stephen Mark, S and A Techs; Steve Ellis, Industrial Noise & Vibration Centre; Ian Jamieson, Pulcea, at the trial site.

Sonic sea lice treatment ‘safe to use in sea’

Equipment passes test at farm site in Shetland

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A new anti-sea lice treatment concept under development to help make aquaculture more sustainable has successfully completed environmental safety trials in Scotland.

The multinational consortium behind the BREEZE initiative carried out the week-long trials at a Scottish Sea Farms site in Shetland. The trials validated modelling already carried out and have shown that the sonic technology to treat fish against sea lice can operate safely in an open marine environment.

BREEZE combines existing hydrogen peroxide treatment delivered by Aqua Pharma Group with the sonic technology pioneered by UK innovator Pulcea to improve the efficiency of sea lice removal from fish in a gentle treatment.

A post-treatment biological clean-up process using enzymes then speeds up the decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water, making the system suitable for use even in environmentally sensitive areas.

Momentous milestone

Rachel Brown, global innovation manager of BREEZE consortium partner and project activity leader, Aqua Pharma Group, said: “These recent in-situ trials are a momentous milestone in this project.

“We know from our many years of treatment experience that the marine environment is challenging, and we know from our research so far that this system has the potential to be an effective treatment against sea lice. So, it is great news that the equipment has performed well in these trials and that we are a step closer to bringing a system to market that can really help make a difference to fish farmers.”

A long road to success

Ian Armstrong: Award significantly enhances the ability of Pulcea to deliver its innovative technology.

Pulcea was founded in 2015 by Ian Armstrong, pictured right. He was joined in 2017 by marine physicist Ian Jamieson who is responsible for delivering a system capable of the synergistic effect at a scale relevant to the aquaculture industry.

The benefits of sonic technology when used in conjunction with hydrogen peroxide were discovered in 2016 during the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) Rapid Response project studying sonic technology at the University of Stirling’s Marine Environmental Research Laboratory at Machrihanish.

Pulcea’s subsequent challenge was to discover how to commercially scale up the invention.

The project has received funding from SAIC and from Innovate UK via a Knowledge Transfer Partnership that paid for veterinarian Dr Rachel Brown (now at Aqua Pharma) to spend three years at the University of Stirling and Pulcea. Brown, who has extensive experience working with ultrasound technology in the veterinary industry, worked closely with academic supervisors Professor James Bron and Dr Armin Sturm, leading parasitology experts at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling.

Marine mammals

Ian Armstrong, managing director of BREEZE consortium partner, Pulcea, said: “Before the operational deployment of any physics-based technology, it is first necessary to understand the basic principles.

“Over the last four years, Pulcea has thoroughly researched how the technology enhances the efficacy of hydrogen peroxide against sea lice, allowing us to optimise the treatment in controlled tank experiments which safeguards fish welfare.

“The recent trials, undertaken without any fish present at the farm, have shown that this treatment can also be used under operational conditions without detriment to nearby marine mammal inhabitants or to human health.

“The BREEZE consortium is now ready to proceed to operational trials in Norway where the commercial lead, Aqua Pharma Group, has the vessels and crew available for deployment of the Pulcea technology.”

Gentle on fish

Dr Ralph Bickerdike, head of fish health at Scottish Sea Farms, said: “Contrary to what its name might suggest, hydrogen peroxide is extremely gentle both on fish and environment.

“Administered at a low concentration – typically, a tenth of the strength used in an everyday mouthwash – it’s highly effective at dislodging sea lice before rapidly breaking down into just water and oxygen.

“To learn that its efficacy might be enhanced further by pairing it with sonic technology is of huge interest not just to Scottish Sea Farms but the wider sector.”

Emphasis on environment

Ashleigh Kitchiner, senior marine mammal consultant for Penicuik-based global environmental concultancy APEM Ltd and marine mammal observer for the trial, said: “It was a pleasure for APEM to work with the Aqua Pharma Group and Pulcea team on this research trial. It is clear they have placed a great deal of emphasis on protecting the marine environment whilst trying to ensure an efficacious treatment against sea lice. We are looking forward to working with them on future trials across Scotland.”

In 2021 the project consortium, made up of Aqua Pharma Group, Pulcea and the Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU), received funding from the European Union’s food innovation initiative EIT Food as part of its mission to make the aquaculture sector more sustainable and a vital part of a more healthy and trusted food system.