Funding for salmon research

Healthy specimen: Rodney Clark with a salmon caught near
Healthy specimen: Rodney Clark with a salmon caught near Kaikoura.

The salmon farming industry has more than $700,000 of government research money to spend on finding out why some fish are deformed and to develop vaccines to prevent infections.

The Ministry of Primary Industry granted $600,000 of Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) money to the Salmon Improvement Group to study deformities in king (chinook) salmon farmed in New Zealand. Aquaculture New Zealand was granted $115,700 to develop ability for fish vaccines to be made in New Zealand.

Salmon Improvement Group manager John Bailey said the three-year project had three goals: To diagnose spinal deformities, measure incidence and look at causes.

Deformed fish were poor performers and could not be sold as a premium product, he said. Some died before leaving hatcheries for fish farms and others were culled.

Environmental conditions such as water temperature during incubation, nutrition at critical times and genetics all played a part in causing spinal defects in salmon species farmed overseas.

The fish-farming industry used genetic markers to select especially productive fish for breeding, Mr Bailey said. The project might also identify markers for malformed spines.

Massey University, the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) and feed company Skretting were all involved in the project which would be based at freshwater hatcheries and sea farms.

Salmon farming company Sanford was supportive and Mr Bailey hoped Mount Cook Alpine Salmon and Benmore Salmon might become involved.

This was the first time the New Zealand King Salmon freshwater manager knew of government and university researchers co-operating to benefit the industry, he said.

Aquaculture New Zealand (ANZ) has $115,700 of SFF money to spend researching the development of vaccines to prevent bacterial infections in farmed salmon.

ANZ technical director Colin Johnston said the industry would rather use vaccines to prevent disease than antibiotics as a cure.

New Zealand was in the enviable position of having no significant diseases affecting farmed fish, he said. Vaccines were not, and to his knowledge never had been, used on salmon in this country.

Salmon vaccines were available only from overseas suppliers, Mr Johnston said. By the end of the year-long project, he expected vaccines could be made in New Zealand, complying with regulations, quality control standards and intellectual property law.

Crown Research Institutes were involved in the project but no animal remedies companies.

Mr Johnston would not say which diseases fish vaccines could prevent "because I can't look into the future".

"This is about developing tools similar to any other production industry around the world."

Aquaculture New Zealand would publish results of the study but Mr Johnston did not know whether it would be publicly available.

The Marlborough Express