Funding initiative in Scotland puts emphasis on fish health and welfare

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Fish farm, Loch Awe Arygll and Bute, Scotland © GettyImages/richard johnson
Fish farm, Loch Awe Arygll and Bute, Scotland © GettyImages/richard johnson

Related tags Scotland Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre fish health

Scotland’s Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) is supporting further research into fish health and wellbeing initiatives in 2024, with seven projects set to benefit from its most recent funding call.

With a combined total value of more than £860,000 (US$1,078K), the funded R&D work has secured over £300,000 from SAIC with additional support being provided by commercial partners.

Research will kick off in early January, or before, with each group targeting a summer completion date.

Included among the successful initiatives are projects focused on gill health in Atlantic salmon, parasite management, cleaner fish health and welfare, and managing or preventing disease through immunization and vaccinations. Some of the projects selected for funding are extensions of previous research supported by SAIC, with teams applying for a funding boost to take concepts to the next stage.

The innovation center’s team of experts as well as its independent scientific panel assessed the seven applications, which all were found to match the criteria for its defined priorities around finfish health and welfare.

Disease resistance 

We recently reported on an SAIC backed project involving a dietary supplement already consumed by humans for its anti-aging benefits. The researchers involved will look at how the soy derived compound could be used to help salmon digest food and improve their natural resistance​ to disease, with feed trials pending.

Trash to treasure

And last month, Stirling based SAIC reported that it is funding an initiative that could open up a new avenue for seafood producers to deal with waste in a more circular way.

Scottish Sea Farms, water technology supplier Power and Water, and waste services company, Tradebe, are also supporting the research.

While most waste from aquaculture is already recycled, SAIC said results of this study could see by-products being repurposed within the farmed salmon sector, including as a protein-rich feed ingredient.

Water treatment equipment designed and supplied by Power and Water will be used at Scottish Sea Farms’ Barcaldine Hatchery near Oban for the duration of the project. Using an electrochemical process and ultrasound technology, it will first extract excess water from waste matter before the remaining nutrient-rich material is fed to marine worms – or polychaetes – to boost their growth.

A second stage of the research involves assessing the nutritional profile of the worms, including protein and fatty acids, to gauge their suitability as an aquaculture feed ingredient. Polychaetes are already used in seafood production as a key feed source for shrimp at the breeding stage, and other studies have explored their role in terrestrial animals’ diets.

The remaining wastewater will then be filtered further using natural seaweed to absorb any nitrogen and phosphorous.

Wide adoption potential

Dr Georgina Robinson, lead researcher and UKRI future leaders fellow at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), said:

“Aquaculture waste is not typically considered as valuable as co-products from other sectors, but there are a range of opportunities to be explored that could change that attitude. By taking a circular approach, we can use the co-products to aid the growth of other organisms that will, in turn, benefit the sector as a sustainable feed ingredient. This is the first time the water treatment system has been used for freshwater waste and the results of the project could show huge potential for it to be adopted more widely.”

The final stage of the research includes an assessment of the environmental impact and mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the novel approach compared to existing methods of waste disposal. Currently, liquid aquaculture waste is transported and spread to land in rural locations after treatment.

SAMS plans to bring the circular concept to the market under a spinout, called N-ovatio-N, early next year.

In October, Dr Georgina Robinson picked up the top prize from The Converge Challenge, which recognizes novel start-up and spinout ideas with high commercial potential and scalability. N-ovation-N will receive £50,000 in cash and £20,000 in in-kind business support to drive the company forward in its next phase.

Ewen Leslie, head of freshwater engineering and project lead at Scottish Sea Farms, said: “Re-purposing fish waste into valuable by-products is a core part of our day-to-day operations at Barcaldine Hatchery. This new collaboration has the potential to build on this by diversifying and growing the range of by-products that can be delivered.”

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