PML has received funding worth more than £350,000 from a joint Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) programme to address key challenges to the aquaculture sector.
The programme which focuses on farming or cultivation in finfish, molluscs and crustaceans, primarily aims to build capacity across the aquaculture research sector, with multidisciplinary projects spanning bioscience and environmental science. PML has been awarded funding to lead two projects and is a partner in a third.
The aquaculture sector provides a vital role in feeding a growing global human population (set to reach 9 billion by 2020). In the UK, the value of aquaculture in producing finfish, such as salmon and sea trout, and shellfish, such as oysters and mussels, is worth around £580M per year and rising. Challenges to the industry such as disease and parasite infections affecting farmed stock have a devastating impact across all of the industry’s sub-sectors.
Risks and Opportunities for Sustainable Aquaculture (ROSA) is one PML-led project that will develop computer modelling tools to aid in improving management strategies for sustainable growth of aquaculture. However, shellfish are highly responsive to a number of environmental factors which may affect their growth and the capacity of an ecosystem where aquaculture is located. With global changes underway the risks and opportunities for aquaculture are also almost certain to change as ROSA project leader Professor Icarus Allen, of PML, outlined: “We must consider the potential risks and benefits of environmental change; addressing direct impacts such as increasing temperature, storminess, exposure to wind and waves, plus frequency of harmful algal bloom events. It is also important to identify locations and culture practices that minimise impacts at local and regional scales.”
The ShellEye project, led by PML’s Dr Peter Miller, will use Earth observation data from satellites to monitor and forecast water quality for the aquaculture industry and provide a hazard early warning system for harmful algal blooms and bacterial and viral pollution. EU shellfish food hygiene regulations require aquaculture sites to fall below strict limits for E.coli and phytoplankton toxins. With improved warnings, farms could minimise financial losses which currently can reach £162K per closure, for example by avoiding costly recalls of products. “We will be working with colleagues in aquaculture companies: two on the south coast of Cornwall and one in the Clyde, Scotland. The first part of the project will focus on the development of novel monitoring and short-term forecasting techniques. During the latter stages of the project, and to support the busiest time in the shellfish calendar, we will pilot the first shellfish monitoring service using these novel approaches”, said Dr Miller.
Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC’s Science Director said: “To help ensure sustainable aquaculture stocks for society and the economy, a broad research base is needed to understand the biology and health of farmed species. Research focusing on the interactions between industry and the ecosystem is crucial to ensure sustainable production of this healthy and nutritious food source.”
The projects funded under this call also receive support from co-funders Centre for the Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Sciences (Cefas), Marine Scotland Science and the Scottish Government.