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Benchmark's lumpsucker facilities at Aultbea and on Shetland are due to produce their first batches of cleanerfish in early 2017. Image: Rob Fletcher.
Benchmark's lumpsucker facilities at Aultbea and on Shetland are due to produce their first batches of cleanerfish in early 2017. Image: Rob Fletcher.

Two projects that seek to improve the welfare of lumpfish deployed in Scottish salmon farms, through a detailed analysis of the biological needs and disease challenges facing them, have attracted funding of almost £3 million.

The first project aims to establish a secure and sustainable supply of lumpfish for Scottish salmon farms and to optimise their deployment for effective sea lice control. It will take a range of technologies that have proof of concept in the laboratory through to prototyping in the commercial environment. Heading the research will be a team from the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling, the leading aquaculture research and training department in the UK.

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) has awarded a grant worth £817,473 to the project, valued at a total of £2.44 million. Other contributions are coming from five commercial partners - Marine Harvest Scotland, Benchmark Animal Health, BioMar, The Scottish Salmon Company and Otter Ferry Seafish - as well as the University of Stirling. Outputs will include protocols for breeding, feeding and deploying lumpsuckers into salmon farms; new products, such as feeds and vaccines; and knowledge to provide Scotland with a viable, sustainable and efficient source of cleaner-fish for sea lice control.

The aim of the research, conducted by Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, is to improve the survival and welfare of lumpfish and ultimately increase the supply of cleaner fish into the Scottish salmon industry.

The second project, which is being led by Fish Vet Group, includes a grant of £120,680 from SAIC towards its overall budget of £475,851. This project involves collaboration amongst six commercial partners – the Fish Vet Group, FAI Aquaculture, Scottish Sea Farms, The Scottish Salmon Company, Grieg Seafood Shetland, Cooke Aquaculture – as well as the University of Stirling.

The university partners have identified the potential of applied research to meet the practical needs of the salmon industry in Scotland.

Heather Jones, CEO of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, said: “The commercial use of cleaner-fish has been identified as one of the most promising ways to address sea lice control in the Scottish salmon industry. By investing in and accelerating projects like these, which meet the needs of the industry, we aim to increase the productivity and sustainability of salmon farms across the nation. These projects bring together the best academic and industry expertise to drive innovation forwards.”

Professor Hervé Migaud, Director of Research at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, said: “Research into cleaner fish is of great potential value to the economic development of the Scottish aquaculture industry, and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre’s support for these two projects could have a tremendous impact. The Institute of Aquaculture is leading world-class research focused on cleaner-fish, and will bring its full range of expertise to address key knowledge gaps which are limiting the implementation and welfare of lumpsucker fish.”

Jeremy Ryland Langley, Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager at Waitrose, added: “In our partnerships with salmon farmers in Scotland, we encourage the early adoption of innovative practices that support sustainability and good environmental stewardship. The developing use of biological methods to control sea lice is exciting, and we are delighted that these two collaborative projects could open the way for the wider deployment of cleaner-fish on Scottish salmon farms.”

Project details

Project 1 – Securing a sustainable supply and the optimal deployment of lumpfish for sea lice control in the Scottish salmon industry

The project is a collaboration between Marine Harvest Scotland, Benchmark Animal Health, Biomar, The Scottish Salmon Company, Otter Ferry Seafish and the University of Stirling.

The project work, due to be completed in 2018, has three main objectives:

  • To develop the knowledge and protocols required to support lumpsucker hatcheries and juvenile production facilities through the implementation of sustainable captive-bred broodstock management programmes.
  • To develop on-farm management strategies to maximise the delousing performance of lumpsuckers in salmon pens.
  • To develop tools to monitor and enhance understanding of the lumpsucker immune system to inform the design and testing of vaccines against bacterial infections.

There are four work packages, focusing on broodstock management (led by the Institute of Aquaculture); larval rearing and juvenile nutrition (led by BioMar); cage management (led by Marine Harvest Scotland); and health management (led by Benchmark Animal Health).

Project 2 – Health and welfare of lumpfish in hatchery production and deployed in Scottish salmon pens

The project is a collaboration between Fish Vet Group, FAI Aquaculture, Scottish Sea Farms, The Scottish Salmon Company, Grieg Seafood Shetland, Cooke Aquaculture, and the Institute of Aquaculture.

It will last for 24 months and has two main objectives:

  • Assessment of the main causes of mortality in both hatcheries and sea pens for lumpfish farmed in Scotland, by conducting an extensive epidemiological study.
  • To improve the overall welfare for the species by developing efficient Operational Welfare Indicators and making recommendations for improved practices.

It is organised around two work packages:

1)   Health and welfare of lumpfish in production hatcheries.

2)   Trends in mortality, disease prevalence and categorisation of lumpfish during deployment in sea cages.