About our aquaculture research

Today, over a billion people rely on seafood as their main source of animal protein, with Asia accounting for 70% of all consumption. Fish is the only affordable and available source of animal protein in many developing countries and is recognised as a vital source of omega-3.

Aquaculture is the world's fastest growing food production sector, playing a vital role in  working towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2 of zero hunger. Our research seeks to transform the global aquaculture sector and improve sustainability and food security.

Find out more about our research groups and PhD opportunities. 

For nearly five decades, the Institute of Aquaculture has played a key role in improving the health and welfare of fish, pioneering genetic innovations to improve yield, addressed public environmental concerns, and delivered economic benefits to local and national populations in the UK and developing countries.

We have one of the world’s largest concentrations of cross-disciplinary expertise dedicated to aquaculture and leading research on farmed and natural fish stocks, shellfish and aquatic plants. Our researchers deliver science-based solutions that changes industry practices and policies.

In 2019, we won the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2019 in recognition of the impact and international reach of our research on aquaculture. This work has improved the sustainability, economy and health and welfare of farmed stocks.

We’ve also attracted UK and Scottish Government’s funding of £17m through the City Region Deal to invest in capital infrastructure to lead the National Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Hub. This will create a unique platform to put aquaculture at the heart of the national UK food strategy.

Our research has resulted in substantial contributions to the economy of the UK and beyond. Farmed salmon is Scotland and the UK’s number one food £600m export to over 50 countries, employing 2,300 people in remote and rural UK.

Our international reach has an even greater contribution due to the scale of aquaculture as an industry in Asia, Africa and South America, where farmed fish is now an equal contributor to food security as wild-capture fish, and greater than that of beef production.

Aquaculture researcher at work

Our research highlights

Vaccines are now recognised as essential tools for the prevention and control of diseases in aquaculture. We research and develop fish vaccines with funding from major pharmaceutical companies. Most farmed fish in the UK are now vaccinated with vaccines developed at the Institute.  The result has been a vast improvement in fish health and survival, and a sustained minimal use of antibiotics. We've developed vaccines for sea bass and sea bream, the major farmed species in Europe, as well as the first vaccine for Pangasius catfish in Vietnam. A variety of new vaccines are currently being developed for cultured tilapia fish to support a rapidly growing industry in Asia. 

Parasitic disease has posed an increasing challenge for global Atlantic salmon aquaculture, particularly with respect to sea lice and gill diseases. Together these problems cost the global industry in excess of over £0.76 billion per annum. We played a central role in developing integrated pest management strategies to control these diseases and reduce the need for chemicals, an approach that has been adopted worldwide. 

We've been at the forefront of developing sustainable plant-based alternatives to marine fish oil as a feed ingredient. This has also been hailed as a major breakthrough, and the resulting higher sustainability feeds have provided a solution that is now employed across the world’s fish farming industry.

Researchers at the Institute developed a novel, decentralised approach to improve the availability of high-quality tilapia seed (fish fry) and more nutritious fish in Bangladesh. This has made easier for easier for farmers to stock healthy tilapia in the waters of their rice fields which increases income and reduces the need for pesticide. This has brought significant socioeconomic benefits to poorer communities.

Our fundamental research in fish adaptability and cognition has led directly to changes in management practices, accreditation and industry guidance.

The Darwin Sherbro Oyster Project is working with remote communities in Sierra Leone to offer sustainable income for local women through the culture, processing and marketing of native mangrove oysters.

We’re coordinating interdisciplinary projects on environmental licensing and regulation. This has improved aquaculture governance in Europe and Africa and led to changes in marine farm management practices for fish and shellfish.

Our research into movement of aquaculture offshore, away from crowded coasts, provided industry and regulators with insight into fish health and welfare in these new environments. This has allowed for more informed planning and management.

Research on negative impacts of aquaculture intensification have changed practice in the welfare and treatment of farmed shrimp, winning the prestigious 2020 Global Aquaculture Innovation Award.

Our research for European aquaculture has allowed improvements in production and competitiveness, while ensuring sustainability and food safety and environmental compliance.

We have been particularly successful in raising the visibility of aquaculture’s role in transforming food systems in the UK.

Our partnerships

Collaboration and internationalisation are key to our mission and we work in partnership with governments, NGOs, regulatory bodies, civic society and the domestic and global aquaculture industry. This provides significant contributions to the broader research base, economy, and society. Our extensive alumni network includes former students working with fish farmers, feed producers, pharmaceutical suppliers and in the wider food supply chain.

The Institute continues to deliver large-scale research and innovation projects and to provide advice and expertise for Government to draw upon.

In Scotland we lead and participate in three main initiatives funded by Scottish government and UK Research and Innovation:

  • the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre
  • the Marine Alliance Science and Technology Scotland
  • the Aquaculture Collaborative Research Hub

At European level, we have contributed significantly to shape and drive a number of key initiatives including the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform, the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers, and the H2020 research infrastructure project AQUAEXCEL.

At international level, much of the IoA collaborative activity and research partnerships has been guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This activity is strategically supported by our influential network of alumni, now over 1,500 past students from around 100 different countries.

Our extensive industrial partnerships include:

  • world leading salmon companies based in Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Chile, Tasmania
  • feed manufacturers
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • breeding companies
  • certifiers and advocacy organisations
  • governmental departments such as Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Marine Scotland Science and the Environment Agency, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Cefas)

These collaborations have led to a significant number of University of Stirling match-funded PhD scholarships, access to large-scale facilities for industrial scale trials (on-farm) and extensive knowledge transfer and training.