Farmed fish health: Scotland's Farmed Fish Health Framework group minutes - October 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 26 October 2023

Attendees and apologies

  • Sheila Voas, Chair, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Adviser (SG)
  • Lorna King, SG
  • Charles Allan, in part, SG, Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI)
  • Lucy Law, in part, SG
  • Iain Berrill, Salmon Scotland
  • Herve Migaud, MOWI Scotland
  • Mike Montague, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
  • Rowena Mitchell, Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)
  • Ronnie Soutar, Fish Vets
  • John Webster, British Trout Association (BTA)
  • Heather Jones, Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC)
  • Jonathan Fletcher, SG,  Secretariat



  • Oliver Robinson, British Trout Association (BTA)
  • Malcolm Pentland, SG
  • Fraser Broadfoot, Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)
  • Jim Gallagher, Scottish Sea Farms (SSF)
  • Ben Hadfield, MOWI Scotland

Items and actions

Welcome from the Chair

Chair noted that although it had been some time since the steering group had met, good progress had been made in some work areas.

Issues discussed:

  • Steering group members noted that the Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) evaluation of long term investment had concluded that SAIC would not receive funding beyond 2024. A number of members expressed disappointment in that outcome.  SAIC highlighted that they were in discussion with  the Scottish Government with regard to the contribution it makes to innovation and were exploring options for the way forward, including on funding. SAIC were consulting with industry’s views on priorities for SAIC going forward
  • it has been a challenging year for fin fish production with regards to fish health impacts of environmental events. Salmon Scotland emphasised a clear need to prioritise and renew commitments on fish health and welfare
  • that the FFHF provides a good forum to collaborate and bring expertise to a challenging landscape of tightening finances at a time when fish health and welfare was a priority
  • SG Chief Scientific Adviser stressed the importance of the triple helix model of private, public and academic funding and collaboration to research and development. 

Farmed Fish Health Framework strategic delivery – climate change 

Steering group members had previously stated that taking a more strategic approach to fish health would be more impactful and effective. 

It was noted that secretariat has been exploring how that could be best achieved and had focused on the climate change workstream to develop an approach which could deliver a more impactful approach. A potential option could be to embed fish health work into the Marine Directorate’s  (MD) developing work stream on climate change strategy. There was an opportunity to pilot MD’s approach to better understanding climate change impacts on blue economy sectors on aquaculture and challenges it faces going forward. 

The SG MD climate change policy lead gave a brief presentation on the MDs climate change strategy. The approach could involve undertaking a vulnerability assessment, and assessment of MD’s data on temperature, dissolved oxygen data and ocean acidification. Recruitment into the climate change workstream would begin in Dec 2023, and discussion on how the workstream could support fish health would follow. 

Points raised 

Salmon Scotland enquired if data generated from the work could be made available and used by aquaculture producers.

An invitation to attend a marine farm visit in 2024 was extended to new members of the MD climate change policy team when in post. 

The SG MD climate change policy lead stated there are two key marine monitoring stations operated by Marine Directorates, and that the spatial resolution of the data gathered under the monitoring programme could be queried. Further data collection may be required. 

SAIC reminded the group that there may be merit in revisiting the outputs of the sub groups of the original FFHF format which considered climate change. 

That the impacts of climate change and necessary adaptations are also important to avoid high mortalities, welfare issues and economic impact. 

Fish Vets representative stated that temperature does not provide an issue per se, it is the associated change in jellyfish and Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) abundance and distribution. There is a need to predict how areas of low oxygen move and arrival at farms, and to better understand how nitrogen balance is related to agriculture.  Suggested that the group think more about that monitoring. 

Salmon Scotland stated that the two ocean monitoring stations operated by SG is not sufficient and that cross sector working to identify structures across the marine environment which could provide monitoring platforms could offset costs of increasing monitoring. 

MOWI Scotland stated that increasingly, data is generated that is very robust and better standardised, with technologies that can provide live feeds. This information is becoming important for core business in sea farms and in lochs. Temperature itself is not critical factor but the limiting factor is oxygen.

Fish Vets representative states that it is important to understand the issue of depleted oxygen and urgently develop more mitigation.


  • SG to provide further information on the marine directorate climate change programme to members as the SG workstream develops. 

Harmful Algal blooms (HABs) project update

SAIC reflected that it  has been the primary funder of harmful algal bloom (HABs) applied research projects for Scottish Aquaculture, and has managed  a number of HABs projects with funding from various public sector funders including DEFRA and NERC. Outputs from a workshop organised by SAIC and hosted by SAMS on complex gill disease led to the generation of scientifically robust information, with the value of all HABs projects totalling some £3.3 million. 

SAIC noted that the current HABs project funded by DEFRA was instigated by the FFHF when the industry required more information on the links between HABs, gill disease and mortality. Every production company is involved in the project and standard operating procedures for HABS identification and reporting is being developed.

SAIC noted that a number of projects are multi-year projects and are at risk due to the SFCs decision to not continue to invest in SAIC beyond July 2024.

Salmon Scotland commented on a photocatalyst technology that could potentially be applied to mitigate for HABs. MD has indicated it could part fund. However, the project is still in the early stages and it is too early to properly assess it’s application to aquaculture issues 

Salmon Scotland stated that there other industries must be impacted by HABs, such as fisheries, and queried if there was an opportunity to find common ground and leverage funding to undertake further research. The secretariat confirmed this had been raised internally within MD and that is challenging to understand how wild fish are impacted by HABs as surveillance is difficult. 

The Chair reiterated that the scale of impacts on climate change and the outcomes on fish health and economic costs were recognised by SG.

Fish vet representatives emphasised the need for the FFHF to find practical solutions to these problems, and to not simply identify problems. 

Access to medicines

Finfish vaccines - update 

MD representatives provided a brief update on the work of the finfish vaccine task and finfish group, highlighting the sub group had evaluated the issues raised at a vaccines workshop led by the Chief Scientific Adviser in March 2023 and took forward issues which could be most effectual. This included exploring the patenting of isolates as a barrier to vaccine development, promoting knowledge exchange to emphasise Scotland’s aquaculture vaccine priorities, including a presentation to the recent European Association of Fish Pathologists conference in September 2023. 

The group will now reduce the frequency of their meetings but focus on completing outstanding finfish vaccines facts sheets and considering how best to encourage knowledge exchange with the livestock sector. 

Taking vaccine development forward and leveraging funding

The Chief Scientific Adviser gave a presentation titled “Collaboration in Vaccine Research and Development” drawing on examples from the livestock sector to illustrate collaboration and co-funding mechanisms. It explained that research institutes are most commonly responsible for the proof of concept stages of vaccine development, before IPs are in place, then more often it is animal health companies that begin to invest. The presentation stated the importance of the new emerging technologies but identified that they all involved co-funding. A public-private partnership, at an international level could help address issues and was encouraged.

The steering group observed that pharmaceutical companies appear to be moving away from aquaculture and onto other sources of revenue streams. This came to light during Aqua Nor where some companies discussed shifting interests due to challenging licencing conditions in Norway. This is concerning as much medicine development is undertaken in Norway and then made available in Scotland. Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Adviser, notes that international collaboration had been undertaken, with GALVmed an example of an organisation that worked internationally to produce vaccines for diseases in Africa where support is needed to reduce financial risk.

Fish vets representative stated that a Cardiomyopathy syndrome vaccine is set to come to the market in 2026. 

As the next step, people needed to be motivated to decide that something needs to be done; that there must be a driving force and delivery plan; that often core funding is needed to enable large scale projects, for example, the Mordun Research Institute is co-funded and supported from livestock members. Funding required to progress large vaccine projects can be staged through phases to development.

Adaptive regulation of SLICE 

There is a long standing action for SEPA to consider adaptive regulation of SLICE, i.e. a change in pattern of use for more effective sea lice control, and for Salmon Scotland to arrange for excretion trials to be undertaken and data provided to SEPA to assist with its considerations. 

Salmon Scotland had met with SEPA to discuss excretion study trial design trial design which would fulfil SEPA’s requirements, given that existing product data and literature was insufficient. Salmon Scotland had made enquiries regarding the availability of suitable facilities and expertise to conduct the trial, but that some complexities would mean the project could not be conducted within the timeframe for which Marine Directorate could offer a funding contribution. SEPA and Salmon Scotland will continue to liaise as the project develops further.  

Other issues raised 

MOWI Scotland emphasised the value and importance of SAIC in supporting applied science and innovation within aquaculture with renewed calls for it be supported going forward, a point which was echoes by other members.

In the context of increasing pressures on fish health and the need to develop different approaches to treatments, Salmon Scotland expressed disappointment that bacteriophages had not been explored with VMD at this meeting. VMD confirmed discussion was underway to facilitate a meeting on the topic.  

Fish vets emphasised the need to progress without delay given challenging circumstances being faced and the fact there are only two authorised antibiotics available (noting the sector was working on reducing antibiotic use despite an increase in bacterial challenges). A request was also made to address challenges relating to the current withdrawal period and to convene a medicines group meeting separately.


  • Secretariat to facilitate a meeting with VMD on the development of a regulatory framework for bacteriophage use.
  • FFHF secretariate to convene a medicines sub-group meeting at an appropriate time.

Date of next meeting 

It was proposed the next meeting would be held early in 2024. 


  • FFHF secretariat to seek views on timings and format of the next meeting.
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