ANALYSIS - One of the major obstacles to the growth of sustainable salmon farming is the challenge and threat from sea lice. Speaking at the Oceanology International exhibition and conference at the Excel Centre in London, Jason Cleaversmith, the director of business development at the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre said that finding solutions to the problems caused by sea lice was a priority for the centre and new research.
He said that the problems caused by sea lice were costing the Scottish salmon farming industry about £1 billion a year.
And the severity of the problem to the sector was echoed by Dr Arne Fredheim, the research director in the Department of aquaculture technology at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture.
“The three most important challenges in Norway are sea lice, sea lice sea lice,” he told the conference.
“The industry hasn’t been able to grow because of the sea lice challenge.”
Dr Cleaversmith said that Scotland is well positioned for growth in the aquaculture sector because of the provenance and reputation of the region in the industry and the geography of the country.
He said that new aquaculture farms could have a great impact on the economy.
At present aquaculture is worth £1.8 billion and accounts for 48,000 jobs in the region, with salmon production in 2014 reaching 179,000 tonnes and exports being worth £500 million.
Mussel production in Scotland also plays a large part in the economy, with production reaching 7,700 tonnes in 2014 and expected to reach 13,000 tonnes by 2020, producing an increase of 350 jobs in the sector.
However, he said that aquaculture in Scotland is still, in its infancy.
“It is moving in the right direction,” he said.
“Despite the challenges from sea lice, aquaculture is progressing. It is an industry that has been growing nicely”
To ensure the sector continues to grow, Dr Cleaversmith said that it requires more investment and research and development in technology and systems to transform aquaculture.
He said that the SAIC is investing £11 million in research projects that are led by the industry and partnered with higher educational institutes.
“We are trying to find good projects to champion and we need industry to adopt them,” Dr Cleaversmith said.
“We have to make things happen.”
At present the SAIC is looking at four areas of innovation to support – sea lice control, sustainable feeds, rapid disease detection and health and welfare and mollusc spat and production systems.
The centre, which is just a year and a half old has already commissioned nine programmes worth £9.35 million backed by £2.36 million in funds from the SAIC.
Among the projects that are underway, £2.9 million has been invested in research into lumpfish production and £1.9 million in mollusc spat and commercial hatchery systems.
The lumpfish 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.
SAIC has awarded a grant of £817,473 to the project. 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.
Among the planned outputs of the project are protocols for breeding, feeding and deploying lumpsuckers into salmon farms; new products, such as feeds and vaccines; and knowledge to provide Scottish salmon producers with a viable, sustainable and efficient source of cleaner-fish for sea lice control.
The second project aims to improve the welfare of lumpfish in Scottish salmon farms, through an analysis of the biological needs and disease challenges facing them when they are raised in hatcheries and placed in 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. SAIC has awarded a grant worth £120,680 to the £475,851 project.
The SAIC is also championing a project to use wrasse in the Scottish salmon industry.
The research project that was launched in May last year is worth almost £4 million, and it aims to increase the use of farmed wrasse in commercial salmon farms in Scotland as cleaner fish.
The collaboration between Marine Harvest (Scotland), Scottish Sea Farms, BioMar and the Institute of Aquaculture, at the University of Stirling, has seen them join forces to solve the bottlenecks that are restricting the productivity of wrasse and to improve the quality and delousing efficiency of farmed wrasse.
The SAIC is also co-funding a vaccination project to enhance the efficiency and welfare of cleaner-fish.
In the research into sustainable feeds, the SAIC is looking at local protein sources as alternative feeds and looking to reduce the costs to the industry.
Dr Cleaversmith said that 57 per cent on the cost of farmed fish is in the food they eat.
In the mollusc research project, the SAIC and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) are supporting a trial to test the commercial viability of a mussel hatchery in Scotland.
The project is setting up a core pilot-scale hatchery at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Scalloway, Shetland, and testing the commercial feasibility of spat production and also establishing a research and development programme to support the development of new technologies and processes aimed at increasing the yield of farmed mussels in Scotland.
Dr Cleaversmith said that the SAIC is looking for more projects to back but he stressed that they must have a lead partner from a Scottish Higher Education Institution.
He said the areas of research that the centre is hoping to support include the development of processing innovation, the use of technology to support environmental management projects, predator deterrents and offshore innovation.
In other areas he said that the centre is also looking to partner with the Norwegian research centre NOFIMA in other projects.