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Rapid test for seawater readiness the focus of Scottish research

September 13, 2016  By Tom Walker

An innovative new test for seawater readiness, co-funded by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), is currently under development in Scotland.

The 12-month Rapid Response project will see Europharma Scotland Ltd, PrimerDesign Ltd, the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling and SAIC invest a combined £78,190 to address a key decision faced by managers of salmon hatcheries: when to transfer young salmon from freshwater hatchery and nursery facilities to seawater salmon pens.

Currently, tests to determine whether salmon have completed smoltification can take 48 hours or more and involve sending samples elsewhere in the UK or to Norway. These delays can make it difficult for vets and producers to pinpoint the best time to transfer the fish, sometimes resulting in salmon being transferred too early or too late, both of which can cause stress or health problems to the fish and lower harvest volumes.

Now however, the SAIC-supported industry-academic collaboration is developing an on-site molecular test to provide farmers with near real-time information on whether salmon are physiologically ready to transfer to seawater.


If successful, say the researchers, the new test will result in quicker decision-making, healthier fish and higher survival rates. There is also scope to extend the project techniques into a multi-purpose ‘lab in a suitcase’ platform, enabling farmers to test almost instantly for a variety of diseases and pathogens.

According to Nikos Steiropoulos, Managing Director at Europharma Scotland: “Around 50 million salmon juveniles are stocked in UK sea cages each year, each one needing to undergo the change from freshwater to seawater. The commercial possibilities of this project are, therefore, significant; production people know how challenging the smoltification process can be for fish health and that a good start in seawater is key.”

Lead researcher Professor Manfred Weidmann of the University of Stirling, adds: “This research will provide the industry with new techniques they can use in non-lab settings and with minimal training. Not only can these new protocols significantly improve fish welfare and health, they can also ease the day-to-day decision-making for a key industry in Scotland.”

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