FISHWELL will update knowledge on salmon and trout welfare, putting it together as an operational handbook for farmers. Photo: Terje Aamodt/Nofima

Stirling researchers help write fish welfare guide

Researchers at the University of Stirling are helping compile an operational handbook on fish welfare for fish farmers.

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The FISHWELL project is a joint effort between Nofima, the Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute, Nord University and Stirling.

It will focus on evaluating fish welfare using Operational Welfare Indicators (OWIs) defining the OWIs that are most appropriate for different life stages, rearing systems and husbandry routines. This will help farmers identify where their production stands in relation to the specific welfare needs of the fish and allow them to identify areas of strength (best practice) and also provide assurance on acceptable levels of fish welfare.

Chris Noble is leading the FISHWELL project to provide a comprehensive guide for fish farmers. Photo: Nofima

“We are nearly half way through the project,” says Nofima’s senior scientist Chris Noble. “We have put a lot of groundwork into updating our welfare knowledge for each species and life-stage. The next phase will involve assessing which welfare indicators are most suitable for different rearing systems and husbandry practices, such as crowding, harvesting and other procedures.

“Thereafter, in close consultation with the steering group and other interested parties from the industry, the project partners will continue to work on how this updated knowledge can be put to use out on the farms, in the best and most practical way possible.”

Optimise fish welfare

Noble is heading up the year-long research project that has a budget of approximately NOK7 million (£667,000).

“The handbook will help farmers and other interested parties assess and optimise fish welfare. Promoting and illustrating welfare-friendly production practices are fundamental aspects of the project,” says Noble, who works in the Production Biology department of Nofima’s Aquaculture division.

The plan is to have this work completed by the end of the year.

“This will provide the industry with scientifically sound yet at the same time practical indicators that are both species and life-stage-specific. The indicators must also be comprehensible to other people, not only those who work in the industry,” says Kjell Maroni, chief advisor of the Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund (FHF), which has funded the research project.

The scientists involved in the project will also be closely cooperating with FHF’s research programme on cleaner fish welfare and earlier work done by the project partners on operational welfare indicators.

Noble, who has a Marine Biology honours degree from Liverpool University and a PhD from Glasgow University, focuses his research on optimising large-scale commercial aquaculture production, with particular emphasis on improving fish welfare, feed management and biomass control whilst minimising losses through escapes and mortality.