“The only way we can tackle overfishing is to stop taking fish from the ocean and produce it ourselves through sustainable aquaculture”
Interview with Fiona Groves, graduated with a MSc in Oceanography and has worked within the aquaculture sector for more than 7 years
Authors: Albert Curto and María Sabaté
Fiona Groves participated in the 32nd Biovet’s International Symposium hosted in Tarragona in May 2019, where she held a lecture on Atlantic salmon pathologies. Groves currently works as a Regulatory Coordinator at Pontus Research Ltd., a South Wales-based independent Research & Development and consultancy company specialized in aquaculture.
Fiona Groves graduated with a Master of Science degree in Oceanography, from the University of Southampton in England. Since then, she has worked for more than seven years within the aquaculture sector. During her career, Fiona has gained extensive experience in conducting aquaculture research trials, maintenance and planning of aquaculture facilities, as well as fish health, brood stock and hatchery management, having worked with a range of species including Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, ballan wrasse, tilapia, and carp, among others.
How important is salmon production within the aquaculture sector as whole?
If we consider the group of fish called salmonids, which includes Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, sea trout etc. then, in terms of volume Atlantic salmon is the most important species on a global scale. Production is very important in cold water areas, in the middle latitudes. For example, Atlantic salmon accounts for 80% of aquaculture production in Norway. However, in tropical regions, such as in Africa and Asia, where farming of cold-water species is much more challenging, other species are important such as tilapia, carp, pangasius, sea bass, and shrimp.
According to you, which are the reasons why salmon production has grown in recent years?
I think over the last 10 years; people have become more health conscious and are more aware of the health benefits of eating salmon. I also think that there is a growing global concern for the environment, in particular our oceans and there is an increased awareness of the problems of overfishing. Due to this, it has become popular to buy farmed salmon because it is more sustainable than eating wild caught fish. On top of this, the world population is rapidly expanding and therefore the demand for fish food is increasing.
In the industry, technology has improved tremendously, and the use of sophisticated equipment and systems has facilitated this expansion. For example, the use of Recirculating Aquaculture Systems is booming, since RAS use 90% less water than traditional flow through systems, and environmental conditions can be optimised. Therefore, salmon can now be grown in countries with very little water, such as in Africa. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Which countries are the main salmon producers? Is there any emerging country growing exponentially its production?
Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada are the main producers. Norway is the largest producer, followed by Chile. Over the last 30 years Atlantic salmon production has increased almost exponentially, with Chile being the fastest growing producer due to lower production costs in Chile.
Which countries are the largest consumers of salmon? Any emerging country joining the club?
The largest consumers for Atlantic salmon are Europe, Russia, North America and Latin America. I would say the most important emerging markets would be in Japan and Asia.
In your presentation, you expose some of the main problematic pathologies in the salmon farming industry. So far, do you think there is enough research to fight them?
Disease continues to be a major issue in the Atlantic salmon industry and causes large economic losses globally. A few bacterial diseases are considered to be managed successfully, including Vibriosis, Furunculosis, and to some degree Winter Ulcer Disease (Moritella viscosa), via injection vaccination. However, success is variable in the field and more work is needed to test products under environmental conditions that are more representative of the field.
Research is also needed to develop successful vaccines or treatments to fight against several other pathologies not yet considered controlled. For example, Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), Pancreas Disease, Sea Lice, Proliferative Kidney Disease and Amoebic Gill Disease. For example, immersion and oral vaccines, which offer protection for fish which are too small to be vaccinated by injection, as well as natural feed supplements that promote fish health.
What is your opinion about the use of pronutrients and other natural additives for better health and nutrition in aquaculture?
I think it is a great idea. They act as an alternative natural tool to optimise production through improving fish growth, digestibility and fish health, and ultimately improve the sustainability of the industry, which is vital for future expansion. Antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics and chemotherapeutants has become an increasing concern in the industry and, so far, resistance to natural additives has not been found to exist by any pathogen to date. I believe no single approach is likely to be sufficient to eradicate disease in the industry, but a multi-tool approach and the use of pronutrients could hold promising results for the future.
Do you know of any new marine or river species that will be farmed industrially in the near future?
I personally think production of shrimp, grouper and tuna will continue to rise and emerge as major production species globally.
When we eat chicken, we take it for granted that it comes from a farm. However, do you think consumers are usually aware that sometimes they consume fish / shellfish grown in a farm?
Usually, on the packaging there is a statement indicating the origin of the fish, either it will say wild caught salmon, or farmed salmon. Products that bear the recognisable bold checkmark ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) logo, also indicate that the fish has been farmed responsibly.
“Overfishing, water pollution and diseases will force humanity to produce fish and shellfish safely and sustainably in fish farms”. Do you agree with this statement?
I think overfishing will force us to produce farmed fish and shellfish. Nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, this is a scary fact and the only way we can tackle overfishing is to stop taking fish from the ocean and produce fish ourselves through sustainable aquaculture. Concerns for water pollution and disease will ultimately ensure that these aquaculture practices are fully sustainable.
Talking about sustainability… Are fish farms sustainable in the long run? What are the challenges in that regard?
I think over the last 10 years a lot of improvements have been made, but more research is needed to continue to improve the industry and ensure fish farming is sustainable in the long run. The biggest constraint to the expansion of the industry is disease, so finding safe and effective vaccines and treatments is one of the biggest challenges.
Another major challenge is finding sustainable alternatives to fishmeal and fish oil used in fish feeds. Pontus Research, based in Wales, UK aims to help the industry to overcome these challenges by offering in vivo R&D services using state-of-the-art research scale RAS to conduct contract trials to aid the development of fish nutritional and health products.
I have the feeling that aquaculture still has a huge growth potential in Europe and in the world… Am I wrong?
No, not at all. The industry is global and has huge potential to grow and could also be a vital source of income and food for people in developing countries.
In many countries around the world, chicken and tilapia are considered an “affordable” source of protein. Do you think that salmon farming seeks to enter that market niche, or its natural characteristics and production costs will always make salmon less affordable?
I think if research can continue to help overcome disease in the Atlantic salmon industry, and find affordable replacements for fishmeal and fish oil, then production costs would dramatically reduce, and this could be reflected in retail prices making salmon more affordable in the future.