European fish breeding gets a boost

Reidun Lilleholt Kraugerud
May 31, 2019
By Reidun Lilleholt Kraugerud
Anna Sonesson, project coordinator, Fishboost
Anna Sonesson, project coordinator, Fishboost
The European Union project Fishboost, which started in 2014 with the goal of improving European aquaculture through technological advances in breeding for six species of farmed fish, has concluded its work.

With a funding of NOK 75 million (US$.8 million) the Nofima-led project involved scientists from 14 research institutions, 11 companies and a non-government organization, studying a wide range of traits and developed tools and technologies to contribute to a more balanced, sustainable and long-term profitable breeding programmes.

The six species included in the project are: Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), common carp (Cyprinus carpio), European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and turbot (Scophthalmus maximus).

“Fishboost has contributed to increased awareness in Europe that breeding is an important part of fish farming,” says Anna Sonesson, project coordinator for the EU project.

For example, Fishboost’s industry forum at the Aquaculture Europe conference in 2018 was packed out, and Fishboost has held several highly attended workshops, she added.

Knowledge sharing
Fishboost is one of the last projects granted funding under EU’s seventh framework program. High requirements were set for dissemination of findings and large geographical spread in the project. The partners in the project have agreed that only the parties that generated a result or innovation own it, but that knowledge about the result must be shared.

“This means that no one else in the consortium is allowed to exploit your findings,” explains Sonesson.

Examples of impacts and results
The goal of Fishboost is to increase the efficiency and profitability of European aquaculture by enhancing all six species through advanced breeding methods.

Many breeding programmes in Europe have only selected for growth and other traits related to production efficiency. Fishboost has demonstrated the potential of also selecting for better disease resistance. For example, the partners have estimated the heritability of the main diseases for the species and mapped the genes behind them.

Fishboost has developed important tools, such as gene maps and thousands of genomic markers, which identify areas in the DNA where there is variation between animals. For example, genomic markers are used in genomic selection, which is more accurate than traditional breeding. In the Fishboost populations, accuracy using genomic selection was up to 22 percent higher.

However, this method is expensive. The partners in Fishboost have developed ways to reduce the cost of using this method with the aim to increase the use of genomic selection in European breeding programs.

Fishboost has also developed better selection and phenotyping methods to increase production efficiency. The Norwegian industrial partner Salmobreed sees a potential for knowledge transfer between species.

“Much has been done to develop indirect methods for measuring feed utilization and production efficiency on several of the species in Fishboost. The research done on rainbow trout has a particularly high transfer value to salmon,” says Haavard Bakke, project manager at Salmobreed.

Partners in Fishboost have worked to optimize the design and profitability of the breeding program when new traits are included in the breeding objective, taking into account different technological levels, reproduction and biology in the species.

The way forward in breeding

“I hope and believe that the industry will make use of this knowledge and that it will contribute to higher quality in existing breeding programs and stimulate the creation of new ones,” says Sonesson.

Nofima and other research partners have written new applications to continue their work. Nofima has already been awarded two new EU projects in this field.

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Reidun Lilleholt Kraugerud is communication leader for Aquaculture at Nofima.

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