Healthy lumpfish to the rescue of farmed salmon?

Researchers in Bergen want to vaccinate lumpfish that eat salmon lice. The hope is that the healthy immune defence system of the lumpfish can replace the use of chemicals in the fight against sea lice.

Researcher Gyri Teien Haugland of UiB’s Department of Biology holds a lumpfish. She has received a grant to study vaccines for lumpfish to fight sea lice.
FOCUS ON FISH HEALTH: Gyri Teien Haugland of UiB’s Department of Biology has received a top research grant to study the health of lumpfish and develop a vaccine to treat farmed salmon.
Ingunn Halvorsen

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Researcher Gyri Teien Haugland and her colleagues at the University of Bergen’s (UiB) Department of Biology have been awarded NOK 10 million (approximately 1.2 million Euros) from the Research Council of Norway. They will do research on the health of the lumpfish and develop a vaccine against the most common lumpfish diseases. The money is being awarded over a four-year period through a young top researchers in aquaculture scheme, supported by the Research Council.

“Good health is absolutely essential for the lumpfish to be able to do its job as a cleaner-fish,” says Gyri Teien Haugland, who heads the research project The cleaner-fish lumpfish: Immunity, diseases and health, which is coordinated by UiB and has a total budget of NOK 17.5 million (approximately 2.1 million Euros).

In recent years, the aquaculture industry increasingly use cleaner-fish to combat salmon lice on a larger scale. The wrasse has been most commonly used, but now the industry is using lumpfish in greater numbers. Both fish actively eat sea lice and can replace chemical agents in the fight against the louse.


Keeping an appetite in the cold

The lumpfish is easier to raise than the wrasse, because it grows quickly and is less fussy about what it eats. It lives in the wild along the coast of Norway and continues to eat even when it is cold. This means it can be used as a cleaner-fish all year and along the whole coastline.

Following some successful small-scale aquaculture trials, both the volume and the number of users grew in 2013. More than 2 million farmed lumpfish were put into the salmon cages, but many of them died of diseases. In 2014, the researchers began vaccine trials with promising results, and about 5 million farmed lumpfish were introduced to the salmon cages. If the vaccination is successful, production can be further increased this year.

Now Haugland and her colleagues want to find out more about what makes lumpfish ill and how their immune system works.


Edible basic research

“With the ‘young top researcher’ scheme, we wish to provide support to younger researchers who show exceptional potential. The applications must demonstrate the highest technical quality and are evaluated by international experts. Even though Teien Haugland's project is very basic research, it is also highly relevant for the aquaculture industry,” says special adviser Kjell Emil Njaas of the Research Council.

Gyri Teien Haugland sums up the project like this:

“To begin with, this is exciting basic research. We are finding out more about various bacteria and can compare how the immune cells of salmon and lumpfish react to infection. Secondly, this research has direct utility value. Cleaner-fish are a good biological alternative to treatment with medicines to free salmon from lice.”