Media Release: £1m award for University of the Highlands and Islands researchers supporting sustainable aquaculture

Professor Kenneth Black at Loch Kishorn

RESEARCH projects focused on addressing key challenges to the aquaculture sector, and involving scientists and researchers across the University of the Highlands and Islands, have been awarded nearly £1m in funding by two of the UK’s leading research councils as part of the Sustainable Aquaculture Initiative.

The projects, which focus on farming or cultivation in finfish, molluscs and crustaceans, are part of a national programme to build capacity across the aquaculture research sector, with multidisciplinary projects spanning bioscience and environmental science.

“This is fantastic endorsement of the standard and distinction of research across the University of the Highlands and Islands,” said Michael Rayner, University of the Highlands and Islands dean of research. “Our focus is to make a difference to our environment and economy in our region and these nationally-funded grants acknowledge our expertise and performance in this area, vital to our region and the wider Scottish economy.”

In the UK, the value of aquaculture in producing finfish such as salmon and sea trout 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.

“We have secured grants across our partnership,” explained Michael Rayner. “Professor Kenneth Black is working on seabed chemistry around marine fish farms; Professor Keith Davidson is looking at warning mechanisms to minimise the risk of harm to aquaculture and human health from algal blooms. Both professors are based at Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI near Oban. Professor Eric Verspoor at our Rivers and Lochs Institute in Inverness is focussing on the identification of parts of the salmon genome which have diverged in farmed as compared to wild Atlantic salmon. This can then be applied to studies of interactions between farmed and wild salmon to understand the genetic basis of salmon domestication.”

Dr Richard Shelmerdine at NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland is also working on the algal blooms project with colleagues in Oban. And the university’s Professor Bill Austin, also based at Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, is leading on a University of St Andrews project investigating the impact of climate change on algal blooms and aquaculture. Professor Keith Davidson is also collaborating on the ShellEye project led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory which uses satellite remote sensing techniques for harmful algal bloom and pathogen detection.

Professor Axel Miller, acting director of Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI said: “I am delighted that we have received a considerable allocation of this funding from BBSRC and NERC, a reflection on the leading aquaculture research being done here.

“The aquaculture industry is a key growth sector but it is important that it develops sustainably. The work being done by our scientists will help ensure that happens.”

There are 21 new projects across the UK funded from £5M awarded from BBSRC and NERC to support the programme which will focus on key challenges to the industry such as disease, parasite infections and climate-related changes.

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 and Aquaculture Sciences (Cefas) and the Scottish Government.

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Contact: Alison Lochhead
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