MGSA Science & Research Working Group - Aquaculture Science & Research Strategy

MGSA S&RWG was tasked to produce a comprehensive research strategy prioritised on respective contribution to informing the sustainable growth of the Scottish aquaculture industry and potential impacts of the 2020 sustainable production targets as detailed

Executive Summary

This research strategy and requirements document has been produced by the Scottish Government's Ministerial Group for Sustainable Aquaculture - Science and Research Working Group (MGSA-S&R WG). Expert Task Groups were established and charged with providing an authoritative set of research requirements which should inter alia: be aware of other cognate research strategies; demonstrate understanding and robust knowledge of current and historic aquaculture-related research and: provide evidence that each group has engaged in broad consultation with key stakeholders, including policy, regulation, industry and relevant NGOs. The MGSA will be expected to assess the impact of research in relation to its contribution to achieving sustainable growth in the aquaculture sector in Scotland.

In addition to providing a general context for the stated research requirements, each expert Task Group has, where possible, ranked and prioritised the research requirements with respect to their importance in achieving the aquaculture sectors sustainable growth targets by 2020, as set out in the consultation draft of the National Marine Plan, with due regard to the marine environment:

Support the industry and other stakeholders to increase sustainable production by 2020 (from a 2011/2012 baseline) of:

  • Marine finfish to 210,000 tonnes (159,269 t in 2011)
  • Shellfish, especially mussels, to 13,000 tonnes (6525 t in 2012)

Research requirements have been brigaded according to the following topic areas - there is no priority to the order in which these topics area listed:

  • Nutrition
  • Stock Improvement
  • Health & Welfare
  • Food Safety & Hygiene
  • Technology & Engineering
  • Wild-Farmed Interactions
  • Markets, Economics & Social Science
  • Capacity
  • Blue Biotechnology & Growth

This document is designed to help inform potential sponsors of aquaculture related research of key research priorities. It is intended that the MGSA-S&R WG will revisit this document on an approximately annual basis to review what progress has been made in addressing these research priorities.

The overriding theme running though all of the research requirements is the need for improved understanding of, and development of applied commercially relevant solutions to, measures to increase capacity for aquaculture expansion without detriment to the marine and coastal environments and conflicting with other legitimate interests. This is a cross cutting issue for all the topic areas listed above.

An immediate and ongoing priority for the largest and most profitable sector - salmon, is the effective management of sea lice. For the shellfish sector issues of hygiene related to water quality remain paramount if the industry is to secure the investment required for expansion. The physical space in which aquaculture is permitted to operate has a current and significant future bearing upon the ability of the sector to expand to meet the 2020 targets.

Climate change is likely to have an increasing impact on many aspects of aquaculture. New strategies, innovation and tools will be needed to ensure that the industry has both the resilience and the flexibility to respond to such changes.

The research requirements outlined in this document suggest that Scotland has the potential to use its natural resources, existing research and industry capacity to be a recognized world leader in pure and applied research. The expected demand for aquaculture products and services including those derived from emerging Blue Biotechnology*/Growth is assured - simply as a function of increases in human population and per capita consumption. But to exploit this potential, industry, academia and Government will need to explore new models of working together - established norms in the public funding of research, academic progression and training, industry investment and in translating basic and applied research into commercially relevant solutions will need to be challenged. Government and Research Councils should take a strong lead in this regard.

* Blue Biotechnology is a term that has been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology. Biotechnology is defined by the American Chemical Society as the application of biological organisms, systems, or processes by various industries to learning about the science of life and the improvement of the value of materials and organisms such as pharmaceuticals, crops, and livestock.


This document provides an assessment of research requirements which have been subject to a broad range of Task Group and Stakeholder scrutiny. A common strand emerging from the consultation process has been the need to provide additional focus to identify which of the research areas should be recognised as being of the highest priority. The priority has been assessed on the respective contribution to informing the sustainable economic growth of the Scottish aquaculture industry and the potential impacts of the 2020 production targets as detailed in the draft consultation Scottish Marine Plan in 2013.

The following research requirements reflect the need for research activity which may be additional to that known to be in progress:


The effective control of sea lice on salmon farms is highlighted as being of the highest priority and is reflected in the following research requirements:

  • Between farm transmission mechanisms - Health & Welfare
  • Within Farm management practices - Health & Welfare
  • Health and welfare of cleaner fish - Health & Welfare
  • Non-chemical treatment of sea lice - Technology & Engineering
  • Selective Breeding (focusing on resistance to sea lice) - Stock Improvement - Health & Welfare

Understanding and managing interactions with wild salmonids particularly with respect to sea lice is also highlighted as being of the highest priority and reflected in the following research requirements:

  • Greater understanding of sea lice dynamics - Wild-Farmed Interactions
  • The dispersal patterns of sea trout and salmon and subsequent distribution in relation to the Scottish Coast - Wild-Farmed Interactions
  • The effects of sea lice at a population level on wild salmonids - Wild-Farmed Interactions

One of the highest priority areas within the research strategy is replacing scarce, marine-sourced components of aquaculture feeds with sustainable, alternative ingredients that will not adversely affect stock health and welfare or product quality:

Replacement of marine resources within aquaculture feeds - Nutrition


Food safety and hygiene is the highest research priority for the shellfish sector, specifically:

  • Norovirus detection and management - Food Safety & Hygiene
  • Detection, quantification and management of algal biotoxins in shellfish production - Food Safety & Hygiene


Identifying additional areas to increase production capacity in support of the 2020 production target aspirations is also of the highest priority:

  • Integration of aquaculture into marine spatial plans which identify areas for increased capacity - Carrying Capacity
  • Improved estimates of assimilative and biological carrying capacity for fish and shellfish farms in inshore and offshore marine ecosystems - Carrying Capacity


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