Tipping the scales in a healthy industry

The Scottish Aquaculture Centre offers a win-win approach that benefits academia and business and boosts the economy.

 The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) is supporting the growth of the industry through col­laboration and innovation, building a sustainable plat­form for a sector already contributing up to £1.4 billion each year to the economy.

By bringing together industry and research to create solutions to problems concerning the health and welfare of fish and shellfish, SAIC aims to reduce the challenges experienced by producers while also preparing the wider industry for the future, in a win-win approach that offers benefits to both academia and business, while also boosting the Scottish economy.

Launched just over a year ago, SAIC, one of eight innovation centres in Scot­land, is headquartered in the Stirling University Innovation Park. In addition to funding collaborative projects, SAIC are also engaged in skills development, and building on the relationships between busi­nesses and researchers, while sharing suc­cessful project outcomes and best practice.  With Scottish salmon, trout and shell­fish renowned throughout the world, the £13 million from the Scottish Funding Council, matched by industry, means the SAIC can help business unlock further potential, offering greater employment opportunities, especially within rural communities.

Heather Jones emphasises collaborative research
Heather Jones emphasises
collaborative research

“We’re here to connect collaborative research to industry,” says Heather Jones, Chief Executive of the SAIC. “We iden­tify issues where industry would like us to help to stimulate growth, and offer a broad and encompassing invitation to academ­ics. Scotland has a large group of aquacul­ture specialists, and our universities are world renowned; however our invitation is aimed at all academics in many disci­plines, based in all Scottish universities. It’s not just about fish: this is also about software design, marine engineering and data management. Innovation can help every part of the industrial process.

“We are focusing on the future. We want to anticipate the industry’s needs, and to help it grow, and one way to do that is through the recognition that inno­vation is driven by two things: talented people and ideas.

“We’re supporting young academics into research, with 25 funded MSc places through our SAIC Scholars programme, where we’ve asked companies to come up with project ideas from our Priority Inno­vation Actions, and where we hope indus­try will gain immediate solutions, and also give students that valuable hands-on experience working on business-relevant research projects.

“However, a lot of industry employ­ment demand can be supported by school leavers, and we’re involved in a successful programme of Modern Apprenticeships. As we look to the next generation, from fish biologists to farm managers, we need people who are skilled and equipped to drive innovative growth.”

SAIC’s four Priority Innovation Actions involve the control of sea lice, the rapid detection of viral pathogens, finding alternative sustainable feeds for finfish, and reliable shellfish supply. Earlier this year, the centre announced grants worth almost £950,000 for two research projects that had come from the salmon industry, looking to boost the numbers, quality and welfare of the farmed fish through limit­ing sea lice. This month a call has gone out to academics who may be interested in working on innovative mussel research projects as the industry looks to increase mussel production.

“We see our collaboration as starting in Stirling, reaching every part of Scotland, spreading across the UK and Europe,” says Jones. “We want our impact over time to be global. We’re looking to con­nect, and collaborate, to engage across all disciplines. I recently had a fascinat­ing discussion with a physicist, who could see a potentially transformational idea for fish farming. As we get results in from our projects, we will be sharing intelligence, enhancing the knowledge exchange, and codifying best practice, so that the whole industry gains.”

However, as Jones underlines, that gain will provide social benefit – “local jobs in the Highlands and Islands, and increased individual wellbeing from eating high omega-3 heart-healthy fish that are good for you”

SAIC research projects are about pro­ducing happy, healthy fish across the full supply chain from Scotland’s seas – breed­ing, feeding, increasing production of a clean, green, safe and sustainable food – right through to the plate.

“This is about delivering a premier food from this country’s pristine seas lochs and rivers. In fact Scottish salmon is already the UK’s largest single food export and we want to help that grow even more!”