Wrasse and lumpfish producers share best practice as sector moves to next stage
Future of farming
AWORKSHOP last month to discuss current practice and progress on the production and use of cleaner fish attracted almost 90 industry experts, from across the UK, and from Ireland and Norway. Organised by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation and chaired by SSPO technical manager Iain Berrill, the event, in Stirling, was one in a series of regular SSPO technical meetings.
This one coincided with the conclusion of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) sponsored project to upscale the production of farmed ballan wrasse.
The gathering was aimed at sharing the latest knowledge and experiences on both wrasse and lumpfish culture and their use on farms, as well as disseminating the findings from the SAIC initiative.
The day-long seminar featured an overview on production from the main cleaner fish producers - Dougie Hunter of Mowi,Alastair Barge of Otter Ferry, Rob Smith of the University of Swansea, Richard Prickett of Dorset Cleanerfish Company, and Daniel Phillips of Ocean Matters, the Anglesey company recently acquired by Mowi.
They all shared their experience on the farm, and there were updates from Ireland and Norway as well, said Berrill.
Wrasse remains a more challenging species to farm than lumpfish but good progress is being made.
With lumpfish, the industry is nearer to meeting demand and upscaling has been much easier than with wrasse.
The SAIC wrasse project, at Machrihanish near Campbeltown, was a collaboration between Mowi, Scottish Sea Farms, BioMar and the Institute of Aquaculture, and won the recent Aquaculture Award 2019 for Applied Research Breakthrough, after closing the life cycle for captive ballan wrasse.
Many of the big obstacles in wrasse culture and use have now been overcome, said Berrill, with improvements in juvenile and on-farm feeding, for example, and closing the life cycle.
‘But it is one thing to close the cycle of the fish, you then have to ensure that the eggs you are getting out are of the highest possible quality,’ he said.
There is still research to be done to assure the best quality fish from the captive broodstock, and scaling up is the next stage to move from a modest production to a larger scale for use on farms across the sector, to reduce reliance on wild stocks.
Most companies use cleaner fish but there is a limited pool of facilities, and people, producing them, said Berrill.
Several salmon farmers - Mowi, Scottish Sea Farms and the Scottish Salmon Company - are involved in collaborations with third party cleaner fish providers, but the whole industry would encourage more providers.
Some of the farms that were previously used for marine finfish production have been renovated for cleaner fish but there are likely to be more facilities in the UK that could be repurposed, said Berrill.
Mowi is setting up cleaner fish production at the former Anglesey Aquaculture site in Penman on Anglesey, once a sea bass farm, and located close to Ocean Matters.
The company also won planning permission last year to build a new wrasse hatchery at Machrihanish, next to its existing plant.
The Stirling workshop was addressed by Ronnie Hawkins from Mowi and Daniel Carcajona from Scottish Sea Farms, who described their experiences using lumpfish and wrasse on farms.
“These are still new species of fish and we will work tirelessly to overcome the challenges”
They discussed how farm infrastructure must be ready for the cleaner fish, and the staff on the site fully trained, said Berrill, adding that this kind of exchange of information is key to progress.
The meeting also heard from Norwegian firm OK Marine on developments in cleaner fish farming technology.
Further insights into the health and welfare of both species were provided by Carolina Gutierrez-Rabadan, of the University of Swansea, Felix Scholz of the Fish Vet Group, Sonia Rey Planellas of the Institute of Aquaculture (IoA), and Antonios Chalaris of BioMar, who talked about what cleaner fish need to eat.
Turning to wild stocks, Lewis Bennett of Loch Duart highlighted the work that has been going on with the policies established by Marine Scotland and, in the south, the IFCAs (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities).
The sector has been engaging with these bodies and ensuring a flow of information. In Scotland, salmon farmers have signed up to a suite of voluntary measures and the provision of data, which is ‘over and above what is legally required’, said Berrill.
‘Hopefully, that will help reassure some [people] of the sustainability of the fishery.We don’t have any evidence of significant concern over stocks.
‘We only take a certain size range and the rest go back, so there is a careful balance to ensure you still have fish coming through and a good breeding population.’
Bennett also referred to a new research project with Cefas in the south-west fishery, looking at the age and size of breeding.This will support the fishing season they are adopting in the south and in Scotland.
Berrill said the workshop had been very productive:‘Making sure there is a good flow of information between individuals and companies is key and these summits help in that process.
‘On health and welfare, these are still new species of fish and we will work tirelessly to overcome the challenges.We are moving in the right direction.
‘Later this year, we hope to review and update aspects of the Code of Good Practice that cover cleaner fish, which need continual upgrading as our knowledge and experience grows.’
After the SSPO meeting, held at the Stirling Court Hotel on May 22, there was a further seminar the following day, hosted by the Institute of Aquaculture, which focused more specifically on the research outputs.
The IoA’s Herve Migaud and Andrew Davie, who presented the latest R&D on both cleaner fish species at the SSPO workshop, considered the next phase of cleaner fish research.
Above: Farmers and fish health professionals at the workshop. Opposite: The meeting provided a good exchange of ideas