Stir­ling hatch­ery to rear re­search fish

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A 240,000-fish RAS hatch­ery is near­ing com­ple­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling, with the prom­ise of pro­duc­ing ro­bust stock for use in fu­ture re­search projects across the UK.

The new unit, at Buck­ieburn in Stir­ling, was due to be fully op­er­a­tional this month, fol­low­ing a year-long plan­ning and build­ing process to pro­vide re­searchers with At­lantic salmon and rain­bow trout, free from any kind of disease or treat­ment his­tory.

‘Build­ing our own hatch­ery means we will be able to pro­duce a to­tally clean, re­li­able source of re­search-ro­bust fish,’ said Alas­tair McPhee, aqua­cul­ture fa­cil­ity man­ager at the Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling.

‘By en­sur­ing that the fish used in tri­als are not chal­lenged by ex­ter­nal par­a­sites, or suf­fer­ing from low level disease prob­lems, val­i­dates the ac­cu­racy and re­li­a­bil­ity of our re­search.

‘It also im­proves the longer term value of our re­search re­sults and po­ten­tially pre­vents tri­als hav­ing to be re­peated to test key con­clu­sions.’

The new hatch­ery – de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with AquaBioTec­h – will fea­ture a 24-tray egg in­cu­ba­tion area with car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity for 240,000 eggs, and an on-grow­ing RAS unit con­tain­ing 24 tanks of 1,000-litre ca­pac­ity.

The on-grow­ing fa­cil­ity will be equipped with full tem­per­a­ture con­trols and pho­tope­riod ma­nip­u­la­tion, car­ried out us­ing vari­able in­ten­sity LED light­ing.

Each tank will also have waste feed and fae­ces sep­a­ra­tion and will be sup­plied with fully com­puter con­trolled feed­ing sys­tems and an en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, all linked back to an of­fice based PC.

‘While our top level de­sign num­bers will al­low us to stock up to 240,000 fish ev­ery six months, we don’t ex­pect to op­er­ate any­where near that to­tal,’ said McPhee.

‘Be­cause of our re­search fo­cus, the unit is likely to carry around 80,000 fish ev­ery six months. This will be mainly At­lantic salmon and rain­bow trout, although we will be able to work with other tem­per­ate species if re­quired.’

In ad­di­tion to pro­duc­ing re­search-ro­bust fish for use in re­search within the Stir­ling site, which in­cludes the glob­ally renowned In­sti­tute of Aqua­cul­ture, the hatch­ery will also pro­vide stock for re­searchers work­ing at the uni­ver­sity’s ma­rine field sta­tion at Machri­han­ish in Ar­gyll.

‘Be­ing able to sup­ply the re­search team at Machri­han­ish with suit­able fish for the salt­wa­ter phase of their work on sea lice and other projects will be a ma­jor boost,’ McPhee said.

‘We are also re­ceiv­ing po­ten­tial sup­ply re­quests from other UK uni­ver­si­ties and com­mer­cial re­searchers, all of which will be con­sid­ered once we’re up and run­ning.’

Cur­rent project pri­or­i­ties in Stir­ling for the new unit, mean­while, in­clude re­search on fish oil re­place­ment op­tions and the pos­si­ble test­ing of the com­par­a­tive mer­its of RAS and flowthroug­h hatch­eries.

‘Our de­sign is com­mer­cially rel­e­vant, with the in­clu­sion of spe­cial fea­tures be­ing driven en­tirely by our re­search re­quire­ments,’ said McPhee.

‘Our sys­tem, for ex­am­ple, will al­low us to re­cover any feed which isn’t con­sumed and col­lect any waste that’s cre­ated, which are both es­sen­tial fac­tors when car­ry­ing out di­etary tri­als.

‘In this con­text, we’re al­ready at an ad­vanced stage in talks with ma­jor feed man­u­fac­tur­ers about po­ten­tial re­search projects.’

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