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U.K. collaboration could increase stocks of farmed Scottish salmon

Project to address type of water mold that affects fish eggs and juvenile fish.

A project to address one of the key challenges faced by Scotland’s salmon farmers is underway, supported by grant funding from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.

Saprolegnia — a type of water mold that can harm fish eggs and juvenile fish — is thought to significantly reduce stocks at Scotland’s salmon farms every year.

Now, a multi-partner, cross-sector collaboration is seeking to minimize those losses and boost the availability of farmed Scottish salmon by compiling a "big data" resource that will increase understanding of saprolegnia and its causative factors.

The project, "Risk Factors for Escalating Saprolegniosis Outbreaks in Salmon Farms" (RIFE-SOS), is led by professor Pieter van West, director of the International Centre for Aquaculture Research & Development at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

It brings together the knowledge of eight aquaculture companies with the expertise of leading academics at the universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow in Scotland to develop an informational toolkit on how to pre-empt and control occurrence of the disease.

“We know that several factors can make fish more susceptible to saprolegnia and that separate farms subject to similar conditions can be affected to very different degrees. Therefore, we would like to explore ... the main risk factors and which of those factors play a synergistic role in suppressing fish immunity to saprolegnia. The greater our understanding of this, the more we can do to improve fish health and welfare and increase production volumes,” van West said.

SAIC chief executive Heather Jones added, “The sheer number and range of partners involved in this first-of-its-kind project underpins the scale of the issue — and the size of the opportunity both for the sector and global food security, if we can put more effective controls in place. The world population continues to grow; so, too, does demand for food, and aquaculture has a key role to play in helping meet that rising demand.”

In addition to establishing a best practice approach to the management of saprolegnia, the 36-month project potentially could help predict the risk factors associated with other issues that can affect fish, leading to further improvements in health and welfare.

The full RIFE-SOS project partnership includes: Benchmark, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, Europharma, Grieg Seafood Shetland, Landcatch Natural Selection, Marine Harvest Scotland, Pulcea, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, SAIC, Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organization, Scottish Sea Farms, the University of Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow.

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