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Disease resistance cuts fish deaths for £600M Scottish salmon farming industry

Copyright: Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Salmon farmers have been able to dramatically reduce the number of their fish dying from the highly contagious disease infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN) thanks to the discovery of the gene responsible for resistance to the disease by scientists at The Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC.

Salmon farming plays a key role in the Scottish economy. Farmed salmon accounts for over one third of the value of Scotland’s food exports and is estimated to support 2257 jobs (PDF), 2131 of which are in the Highlands and Islands.

IPN is a major challenge for the salmon farming industry. It is estimated to cost the industry £5-10M each year and can have a devastating effect on fragile rural economies. The disease is caused by a virus which affects young fish and controlling its spread is difficult, because farmed salmon are kept at high density in cages tethered to the seabed.

Data breakout

£600M Estimated value of the Scottish salmon farming industry
80-90% Percentage of farmed salmon that have been known to be killed in severe IPN outbreaks
£2M Investment in IPN resistance from salmon-breeding company Landcatch Natural Selection Ltd

In 2007, researchers at The Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh, discovered a gene in salmon which influences resistance to IPN. Landcatch Natural Selection Ltd, a Scottish salmon-breeding company, has used this information to breed IPN-resistant salmon using conventional techniques. The company estimate that once IPN resistance becomes established in their fish populations, death rates from the disease will be reduced from around 25% to virtually zero (PDF). And this decline in mortality has been estimated to equate to £26.4M GVA (gross value added) per year and 750 jobs (PDF).

The research won Dr Ross Houston and Professor Steve Bishop a place as finalists in the 2014 BBSRC Innovator of the Year competition, Commercial Innovator category.

The technology has now been implemented in other major salmon-producing countries such as Norway and Chile, resulting in the majority of the world’s salmon having improved resistance to IPN. Further research is now underway at Roslin to apply similar approaches to tackling other fish diseases.

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Header image copyright: Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0