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SCOTLAND'S two largest salmon farming businesses have joined forces to develop a sustainable method of combating sea lice in a project representing a £2million investment.

Marine Harvest and Scottish Sea Farms are each investing £450,000 over the next three years to develop and grow wrasse – a fish which cleans other fish of parasites and has been shown to help control sea lice in farmed salmon.  The project aims to develop the technology to breed and grow commercially viable numbers of wrasse and deploy these in Atlantic salmon farms in Scotland.

The project has also secured £900,000 of funding from the Technology Strategy Board, a UK Government initiative that supports projects involved in the sustainable production of proteins.

In partnership with Stirling University, research into breeding the best species of wrasse to rid salmon of sea lice will be carried out at Machrihanish Marine Farm in Argyll.

Sea lice present a major challenge to the Scottish salmon industry, costing an estimated £30 million each year.  Sea lice can hamper growth and leave farm salmon vulnerable to diseases.  The industry is licensed to use a number of sea lice medicines but wrasse will provide an additional tool to combat sealice and reduce the use of medicines.

Jim Gallagher, managing director of Scottish Sea Farms, said: “The potential benefits of this joint project for the whole industry are tremendous.  We anticipate that by the end of the project we will have enough farmed wrasse to support the requirements of the whole salmon farming industry in Scotland.

“The project also has clear environmental benefits as using wrasse to combat sea lice will reduce the amount of medicines discharged from salmon farms.”

Alan Sutherland, managing director of Marine Harvest, said: “This project aims to develop the technology to breed and grow commercially viable numbers of wrasse in tanks and deploy them in Scottish salmon farms.  This is a natural process which will benefit the industry, helping it to become more efficient and reduce reliance on medication to fight sea lice.

“Salmon is already Scotland’s largest food export with a value of £285 million per year.  The Scottish Government and the industry itself has aspirations to grow by an extra 50,000 tonnes over the next decade, but this depends on developing new farms and improving efficiency.  Sites that are licensed for salmon farming but have never been developed due to the risk of sea lice can be opened up – using farmed wrasse will allow us to manage that risk in a sustainable manner.”

Marine Harvest and Scottish Sea Farms have signed an agreement with industry body the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) that undertakes to disseminate the practical findings of the project as it progresses to the wider Scottish salmon farming industry.

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