In for the long haul
Tasmanians find much to be gained from global cooperation
Christine Huynh, senior manager of fish health for Australian salmon farmer Tassal, will be the new chair of the Gill Health Initiative steering group. Tasmania’s experience with AGD began in 1986, shortly after the first salmon farms were established there, and it remains the most significant health problem affecting salmon in the warmer conditions of the region. Australian expertise, therefore, has been invaluable in global attempts to combat the challenge.
Freshwater baths have been used to treat AGD in Tasmania since the late 1980s. This has worked since day one, said Huynh, although the disease is still a financial burden for the industry.
In Tasmania, AGD started as a seasonal issue but has become a year round problem, which is probably the way it will go in Scotland, said Huynh.
‘If you look at Ireland, it was a seasonal issue, mainly in the summer, but that has now extended out quite substantially. We can’t be sure why that happens but we’re doing a lot more research into it.’
CSIRO, the Sydney based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, conducts research funded by Tassal – projects that also help the salmon industry worldwide.
The company believes there is much to be gained from global cooperation on health issues. But there is a problem with the way the funding models work at the moment, said Huynh.
‘There are research projects that are being repeated overseas that have already been done in Australia, or are underway.
‘So, as an industry, we really need to streamline our research priorities and tell the research institutes what these are so they have a better idea of what the industry needs –perhaps we need a forum online to say what research projects are coming up.
‘Then it’s up to the research institutes and the funding providers to drive that commercial output so other countries don’t go over the same ground that Australia has covered.’
The problems are not exactly the same, however. In Australia, the suite of pathogens are different to those in Scotland.
Despite that, the countries could collaborate a lot more on AGD related research and hydrozoan (small jellyfish that grow on the side of the nets) related research, an area she believes the Gill Health Initiative could look at.
There seems to be a big will to cooperate among international scientists. Will the companies cooperate to this extent too?
‘For us that’s not a problem at all,’ said Huynh. ‘The more you can improve international management of gill health, and the more you can learn off each other, the more every business is going to benefit. Health isn’t a factor that needs to be competitive.
‘So long as people are willing to collaborate we can at least get more players around the table to bring extra knowledge.
‘I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got researchers who understand the diagnostic tests well, but we need to look at things like integrated pest management, for example, and that might mean bringing in veterinary experts in parasite management to lead the way.
‘Or we might decide we need to understand the epidemiology of the disease and how it transfers, and what type of research we need to do…and that’s another expert we can have in the room.’
She thinks sea lice are interesting but is ‘forever grateful that we don’t have that problem. Now I’m going to knock on wood and find the nearest tree and hug it!’
Apart from gill health, seals also pose a problem for Tasmania’s salmon farmers – as do native sharks, which create the holes in nets – ‘they’re very good at it’, said Huynh.
She can’t predict how big a problem this will be as Tassal develops its new offshore sites in Storm Bay - ‘we won’t know until we deploy some nets’. But she said there are a lot of surveys required for environmental impact statements so the company understands the species that are around the area.
“As an industry, we really need to streamline our research ”
Above: Christine Huynh