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Aquaculture research

Aquaculture is one of the world’s fastest-growing food production sectors, currently producing more than 50% of all fish for human consumption globally, compared to just 9% in 1980. This growth is not only significant in economic terms – it also positions aquaculture as a vital component of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular contributing to SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero hunger). Today, over a billion people rely on seafood as their main source of animal protein, and innovative solutions are required to strengthen global food supply in a world with a widening gap between rich and poor.

The University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture's priorities reflect a global interest in understanding how aquaculture can support the rapidly increasing human population without depleting wild-fish stocks.


Seafood is one of the most valuable food commodities traded globally. Salmon and shrimp have emerged as major farmed seafood commodities but most aquaculture products are produced and consumed domestically, usually in low and medium income countries. Our research addresses the challenges facing the sector, through strategies to enhance fish health and production whilst balancing sustainable development, animal welfare, biodiversity and environmental impact.

The Scottish and UK governments have ambitions for growth in this key food production sector, both domestically and internationally, and our research is shaping policy and delivering economic benefits with global. Read on for just a few examples of our key research.

Our research addresses the challenge of how to enhance fish health and production whilst balancing sustainable development, animal welfare, biodiversity and environmental impact.

infographic: Our experts

Our experts

are helping to tackle the damaging impact of sea lice with 'cleaner fish' research

infographic: Most farmed fish

Most farmed fish

in the UK are now vaccinated and the Institute of Aquaculture continues to develop integrated approaches to health

infographic: We're helping

We're helping

poor communities around the world to farm fish sustainably

Enhancing fish health

Infectious disease provides a major barrier to sustainable aquaculture, and with 598 species used in aquaculture worldwide it is a challenge to keep track of the pathogens. At the Institute of Aquaculture, we maintain a large multi-disciplinary group dedicated to the prevention and control of aquatic infectious diseases addressing the entire aquaculture production spectrum. The overall aim of our research is to improve understanding of major pathogens in aquaculture systems and we do this by integrating expertise across bacteriology, immunology, parasitology, pathology, vaccinology and virology.

Our research investigates environmental factors that promote disease, reservoirs of infection, taxonomic diversity and evolution, modes of disease transmission, routes of infection and infection thresholds. Understanding how pathogens cause disease and interfere with the immune responses of their hosts helps to develop point of care diagnostics, best husbandry measures and preventive vaccines or treatments. The Institute in the late 1980s contributed to the development of the first vaccines for the Atlantic salmon industry, setting the foundations for current cutting edge approaches toward preventative therapy in fish health. The impact of this work has led to significant improvements in fish health and welfare and a much reduced reliance upon antibiotics.

Our activities cover both fundamental and applied research and we work closely with industrial partners spanning a broad range of aquaculture-related activities. Our research has contributed to national and international aquatic animal health and welfare strategies, and much of this is conducted in collaboration with competent authorities in the UK (e.g. MSS and Cefas), Europe (e.g. European Food Safety Authority) and further afield (e.g. OIE).

The first commercial fish vaccines in the UK were developed by scientists at our Institute of Aquaculture.

Helping people to help themselves

The Institute began working with Bangladesh in 1979 to build capacity and develop infrastructure in aquaculture. More recently, the work of the Institute has evolved into larger programmatic initiatives – one of which has focussed on tilapia, a breed of fish that is now a core part of aquaculture in many parts of the Tropics. The fish can be raised in simple backyard systems through to highly commercial, cage and pond systems supplying urban and international markets. Tilapia is important to people in less developed countries because it is easy and inexpensive to culture and can provide additional sources of income and nutrition for local populations.

Researchers at the Institute developed a novel, decentralised approach to improve the availability of high-quality tilapia seed and more nutritious fish in Bangladesh. The outcome has been to make it easier for farmers to stock healthy tilapia in the waters of their rice fields. Their ability to farm both fish and rice at the same time has smoothed out the previous seasonality of their income, with farmers able to sell fish throughout the year. It has also improved nutrition among poorer households.

As a result of this work, an international nongovernmental organisation (CARE) made the inclusion of tilapia a key part of a project promoting innovations in rice field management. Based in 150 communities in an area of North West Bangladesh, decentralised seed production was established as an effective pro-poor innovation in rural areas. A subsequent extension programme resulted in the inclusion of a further 20,000 households bringing significant socioeconomic benefits to poorer communities. We are also working in sub-Saharan Africa to ensure tilapia-based culture ensures conservation of local strains and species

Our Researchers developed a novel approach to improve the availability of high-quality tilapia seed and more nutritious fish in Bangladesh.

Greener solution to combat sea lice

Sea lice, marine ectoparasites of fish, cause economic losses of over £700 million a year for the global Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry. For decades, medicines and chemicals were used to control and treat sea lice infestations. With input from industry, the Institute undertook research into the use of ‘cleaner fish’ as a pest control alternative.

‘Cleaner fish’ provide a service to other fish by removing and consuming ectoparasites. Found in the wild, they had never been successfully farmed before. In 2011, the Institute started work with salmon production companies and feed manufacturers to initiate a programme to farm ballan wrasse. The success of this research led to the establishment of two commercial wrasse farms in 2014 and an overall reduction in the use of chemicals to combat sea lice. A second cleaner fish species, the lumpfish, has since started to be cultured.

The Institute leads UK research on the culture of cleaner fish and covers a wide range of topics related to the domestication of a new species. In 2018, the Institute and its industry partners welcomed what was believed to be a world-first after successfully completing the lifecycle of farming wrasse in a controlled environment. The breakthrough means there are now proven procedures for breeding, weaning and rearing wrasse, which will both help ensure farmers have a more secure, controllable supply and reduce reliance on wild stocks.

In 2018, the Institute and its industry partners welcomed what was believed to be a world-first after successfully completing the lifecycle of farming wrasse in a controlled environment.

Looking to the future

Researchers at the Institute are seeking solutions for some of the biggest challenges of our time: the impact of a growing population worldwide; and how to develop sustainable, healthy and secure ways of living.

Investment of £17 million through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal will create a new aquaculture innovation hub to support the University’s pioneering aquaculture research, translating global growth into high quality local jobs.

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