Scottish farmed salmon disease prevention to be researched
A major research initiative is to be launched to help understand and prevent diseases affecting farmed salmon - including sea lice and gill health conditions.
Tens of millions of pounds are spent annually in response to disease outbreaks at Scottish salmon farms.
The £3.5m programme will focus on prevention, rather than treatment.
Farmed salmon is one of Scotland's biggest food exports, valued at more than £1bn a year.
Genetic and environmental factors
The initiative, backed by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), will focus on two key areas.
The first will examine the factors which cause gill damage to occur, such as water quality, farming practices and equipment, with a view to improving prevention.
A second will analyse the genetic characteristics of the salmon to understand why some are more susceptible to disease than others.
The research is also supported by the SRUC, Scotland's rural college, and the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute.
Robin Shields, of SAIC, said: "Gill health is up there with sea lice as one of the biggest challenges facing salmon farming, not only in Scotland, but across all salmon-producing countries.
"This is an internationally significant issue, which we're aiming to address through this focused effort from some of the top minds in the field.
"The health of a fish's gills is absolutely critical to its overall wellbeing.
"The outcomes we are looking for from these projects are to help provide the industry with the knowledge and tools it needs to manage and control outbreaks, and - further down the line - to prevent disease as far as we can by breeding fish with greater natural resistance."
Marine Harvest said the deaths were caused by the bacterium Pasturella Skyensis.
Giada Desperati, of salmon producer Loch Duart, said: "Rising water temperature is adding to the gill challenges facing our salmon.
"Ensuring the best possible health and welfare for our fish is massively important to our company.
"Not only is Loch Duart investing heavily in new technology to counteract this problem, but we welcome with open arms the opportunity to work together with other salmon farmers on this important health issue.
"Our industry is resilient and innovative and, in collaboration with the SRUC, we are confident that this project will improve understanding, prevention and control for gill health challenges."