SSF head of fish welfare Ralph Bickerdike, left, and AquaGen Scotland managing director Andy Reeve pictured after AquaGen bought SSF's former freshwater facility at Holywood, near Dumfries in 2019. AquaGen will deliver the first ova from SSF's Scottish fish in early 2022. The broodfish have been selected for gill disease resistance. Photo: AquaGen.

Scottish Sea Farms prepares for first ‘future-proof’ salmon

The first ova bred from salmon grown at Scottish Sea Farms’ own sites will be delivered to the company early next year as part of efforts to “future-proof” fish against problems caused by warming seas.

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The eggs, produced in a collaboration with salmon genetic selection specialist AquaGen, are coming from fish selected for their resistance to gill disease, which is becoming an increasing problem as the climate changes.

SSF’s head of fish welfare Dr Ralph Bickerdike said: “Ultimately, we’re seeking to match the right stock to the right conditions in order to maximise fish welfare. As climate conditions continue to change – and with it, the marine environment – we’re acting now to help ensure future stocks can withstand those changes.

Record temperatures

“This summer’s record high temperatures and lower than average rainfall have given rise to increased incidence of gill health issues.

“At some farms, fish stocks have been able to overcome such challenges and bounce back to full health. At other individual farms, we’ve seen significant losses, indicating that some salmon are naturally more resistant than others.”

A generation of bought-in eggs being laid down in the incubation unit at Barcaldine hatchery. SSF will start receiving ova from its own fish in early 2022. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: SSF.

Key traits

SSF and AquaGen will go further by working to identify the genetic differences that make the selected fish resistant better suited to Scotland’s warming waters. This will help with genetic selection of broodstock.

AquaGen Scotland managing director Andrew Reeve said: “Stock selection is an ongoing process. Just as the climate continues to change, so too does the best breeding to withstand those changes.

“Having selected the best performing fish from Scottish Sea Farms’ marine farms, we’re now able to apply the latest technologies and approaches to identify the key traits that have helped these superior grade fish continue to thrive in the Scottish marine environment.”

Seasonality and location

AquaGen and SSF hope to have robust genomic data within three years – a timescale that SSF said could be shortened with knowledge exchange from its other research projects in this area.

These include a collaboration with the University of Aberdeen, feed producer BioMar, Marine Scotland Science and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) to increase understanding of how seasonality and location influence gill health and how farmed salmon respond to these challenges.

Similarly, it is intended that insights into breeding for improved resistance to gill health challenges discovered through the SSF / AquaGen collaboration will be shared with other salmon farmers in Scotland and abroad.

Before then, the first eggs bred from SSF-grown salmon will be delivered into the company’s Barcaldine hatchery near Oban in early 2022 and are scheduled to be transferred to marine farms around Scotland’s west coast and Northern Isles from Q1 2023.