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SALMODIS project: Getting an overall view to get salmon diseases under control

It should soon become easier to identify measures that will also be effective in the long term when outbreaks of disease in salmon farms need to be prevented or combatted.

This is the goal of scientists who have joined forces with the salmon farming industry to develop much longed-for support tools that will help fish farmers and the authorities through the important decision-making phases of the struggle against salmon diseases.

The multidisciplinary research group that has taken on this task has a non-traditional composition, in that it includes expertise ranging from from health economics to control systems technology.

Making cost-benefit ratios visible
“No matter which strategies for controlling disease are selected, they all have short- and long-term cost-benefit effects. The choices made will always affect the fish-farmer’s own economic situation. But they can also have consequeces for the environment, other farmers, other sector interests and local society as a whole. Our aim is to create a basis for the development of tools that will simply make visible these types of costs, benefits and limitations for fish-farmers and authorities when they make decisions,” says project manager Hans Bjelland of SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Major aquaculture companies among participants
The recently launched three-year research project is called SALMODIS, and it has a budget of NOK 13.6 million, of which MNOK 7.6 comes from the Research Council of Norway, while the Fisheries and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund is contributing MNOK 6.0.

The project’s industrial members; Salmar, Lerøy Seafood Group and Marine Harvest, which together account for almost half of Norway’s salmon production, are putting their own efforts and expertise into the project.

First steps towards a general-purpose tool
Project manager Bjelland explains that the project is the first step towards tools that will answer questions regarding the most cost-effective short- and long-term control strategies for preventing and fighting disease and parasite attacks.

According to the project manager, the software tool will need to be able to deal with epidemiological aspects of disease such as its causes, development, consequences and spread, as well as the economic and environmental downstream effects of various measures aimed at fighting disease, not to mention interactions with the local community.

Social conditions
“On the one hand, our choice of control strategies may well change the structure of the industry and thus affect employment and settlement patterns. On the other, it looks as though the level of competence in the industry, company size, organisation and industrial cooperation all affect our prospects of making strategic choices,” says Bjelland.

Model development and integration
The first thing the research team will do is gather together relevant computer models and knowhow, and fill in any gaps in our knowledge. This will cover topics that range from ocean current models to better knowledge of how rapidly salmon lice can become resistant to remedies used in bath treatment of lice-infested farmed salmon.

“It is an aim in itself to develop good analytical systems for each of these fields. Afterwards, we will try to integrate them into larger data models,” says Bjelland.

Specifically, the group will look at how the individual models can be used to analyse two historical events; the spread of the salmon louse in mid-Norway and the outbreak of salmon pancreas disease in the same part of the country.

Decision support and alarms
“Our aim is to use knowledge from the two preliminary phases of the project to develop computer models and methods that can be used both to provide warnings of disease hazards – i.e. to integrate them into existing models or develop new ones – and provide support for decision-making.”

Unique combination of expertise
The research project has brought together experts in various combinations that have probably never been used before in aquaculture research; researchers from seven institutes, universities and management bodies in Norway, the UK and Canada.

The list of scientific personnel who are making contributions to the project includes specialists in industrial design, control theory and systems analysis, organisation theory, social anthropology, epidemiology/food-borne disease, agricultural economics and animal health, as well as mathematics and statistics.

by Svein Tønseth

SALMODIS project participants

Research partners:

SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture
Studio Apertura – NTNU Social Research
Norwegian School of Veterinary Science
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
NINA – Norwegian Institute for Nature Research
University of Strathclyde, Scotland
University of Prince Edward Island, Canada

Industrial participants:

Salmar ASA
Lerøy Seafood Group ASA
Marine Harvest Norway ASA

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