BBSRC/NERC Joint Call in Aquaculture: Collaborative Research and Innovation

Activity: External funding peer-review


Over the last 12 months anaemia has emerged as a significant threat to fish health in salmon aquaculture in Scotland.
Anaemia occurs when there is a lack of red blood cells, reducing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and negatively
impacting on fish health and production. Through recent SAIC project meetings with the aquaculture partners it was
highlighted that the industry has limited practical methods to define the type of anaemia occurring, identify its source and
subsequently develop a preventative strategy against it. The Scottish aquaculture industry is looking to establish a
haematology monitoring programme, to characterise and quantify the impact of anaemia, but does not currently have
access to automated technologies for fish haematology and is reliant on slow, labour intensive and subjective manual
techniques. This lack of technological advancement has also resulted in a lack of reference data for the establishment of
appropriate 'normal' background levels.
The overall aim of this project is the development and validation of efficient methods to assess anaemia in Atlantic salmon
in aquaculture that can be adopted by the industry and included into their regular fish health management programmes.
This is being undertaken by the validation of existing veterinary and medical haematology devices for assessment of fish
blood, which is considerably more difficult owing to fish blood cells being nucleated. However once the relevant techniques
are established and validated they shall be used to investigate anaemia in fish and to put those results into the wider
context of fish health measured using high throughput, automated medical technologies to assess clinical chemistry and
immunology endpoints validated for use with fish in a separate (SAIC funded) project involving the same collaborative
The main benefit and impact of this research shall be improvements in fish health management, increasing fish welfare and
growth, subsequently benefiting the industry by a reduction in costs, increased yield and improved product quality.
The development of an appropriate diagnostic system to assess anaemia in salmon aquaculture requires; a) the
development and validation of rapid, automated haematological methods for salmon blood, and b) the integration of this
haematology data with relevant endpoints on fish health and disease. A holistic diagnostic approach is taken, placing the
haematology findings in the context of fish health investigated by the high throughput assessment of biochemistry and
immunology endpoints and histological analysis. This innovative approach provides information on the cause of anaemia,
thereby allowing identification of solutions. Innovation is needed in the area of blood sample preparation and storage, data
interpretation and particularly with the integration of physiological impacts associated with anaemia. There is a current lack
of reference values in fish haematology and this work shall contribute towards the establishment of reference data of
benefit to the salmon aquaculture industry in Scotland.
In the final stage of the project anaemia in Atlantic salmon from various sites around Scotland shall be identified, defined,
quantified and its impact measured using haematological, clinical chemistry and immunology high-throughput analysers
integrated into a pro-active mechanised technologically advanced method to assess fish heath.
These techniques are relevant to the salmon aquaculture industry in the UK and internationally and user friendly practical
guides and protocols shall be developed along with an engagement workshop to offer hands on training and practice to
encourage the inclusion of these techniques throughout the industry, greatly increasing the impact of this research.
Period14 May 2018
Held atBBSRC, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Salmo salar
  • Aquaculture
  • anaemia