Aqualife, a family-owned business in Stirling, has received funding from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre for a research project to develop new fish vaccination techniques.

Aqualife already vaccinates over one hundred million fish a year in Scotland and Norway, and this new project involves not the salmon that account for most of its business, but so-called ‘cleaner-fish’. These much smaller fish cohabit with salmon on fish farms and eat sea lice, which live on salmon and can impede their growth.
Demand in the salmon industry in Scotland for cleaner-fish species such as wrasse and lumpfish is high, due to recent research demonstrating their success in sea lice control. But providing sufficient cleaner-fish for the industry requires a major boost in production of robust cleaner-fish that can operate effectively throughout the salmon growth cycle.

This new research project is co-funded by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and also involves major salmon producer Scottish Sea Farms and researchers at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, the leading aquaculture research and teaching hub in the UK. Scottish Sea farms will provide access to a range of its marine sites across Orkney, Shetland and the mainland for research to be carried out.

The novel welfare-friendly techniques proposed by the project team could step up the survivability and robustness of lumpsucker and wrasse species, and help to upscale the effectiveness of cleaner-fish on farms. This major contribution towards controlling sea lice biologically could increase the productivity of Scottish salmon farms and decrease the use of medicines in the industry.

One additional planned outcome of Aqualife’s project is a new vaccination device based on a prototype the company has developed for salmon. The plan is to adapt the device for the anatomy and physiology of different lumpfish and wrasse species.

This, believes Ronnie Soutar, Managing Director of Aqualife, could pave the way for further adaptations of the device for use on other farmed non-salmonid species such as Mediterranean bass and bream, Asian catfish or North African tilapia. Soutar explains: “We see a huge market opportunity in the development of vaccination devices and machine vaccination programmes. We want to be able to go to any farm or sector and say we can deliver a programme suitable for the physiology and welfare of the fish. This current cleaner-fish project, with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, the University of Stirling and Scottish Sea Farms, represents a step towards that goal.

“By supporting innovative projects like this one, SAIC is delivering invaluable support for the sustainability and ambitions of companies in our sector, including the potential for major international exports.”

The 18-month project will roll out in August, supported by a grant of £117,000 by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), which was launched in 2014 by the Scottish Government, to harness the strength of Scotland’s research base and natural resources. This has been matched with £168,400 from the other partners involved, who are keen to work together to address aquaculture’s key issues and opportunities.