True love produces healthier pacific salmon

Friday, February 14, 2014

Surprisingly, salmon can spot their true love across a crowded stream. Allowing female salmon to follow their heart and mate with the male of their choice produces healthier babies than those who have their mates selected for them.

Open breeding is just one of many unconventional practices in organic salmon aquaculture developed by Yellow Island Aquaculture, Ltd. in partnership with the University of Waterloo and five other Canadian universities.

Brian Dixon holding a very large salmon from Yellow Island Aquaculture, Ltd.Waterloo Biology Professor Brian Dixon is investigating the immunology of these fish on a molecular level to understand why these breeding strategies produce a superior salmon. Dixon holds the Canada Research Chair in Fish and Environmental Immunology.

The research team’s work has helped Yellow Island to be become the first commercial salmon farm in Canada to raise 100 per cent organic Pacific Chinook salmon.

Our research has resulted in high quality salmon for some of the best restaurants in Vancouver,” said Dixon.

The biggest challenge with raising native Pacific Chinook salmon is keeping them healthy. One sick fish can wipe out an entire stock. By creating a more robust stock from the ground up, Yellow Island Aquaculture Ltd, avoids using antibiotics and vaccines, which are both costly to producers and stressful for the fish.

Yellow Island, in collaboration with Dixon, has also exposed some salmon to different diseases, allowing the disease to take its course and then reintroduced the survivors back to the main stock. As the new immunity gets passed on through natural breeding, the stock becomes stronger.

Dixon sees the amazing results from Yellow Island’s approach when he exposes their salmon to new diseases. Diseases and parasites that should normally produce up to 80 to 90 per cent mortality, now only cause 20 per cent mortality in the Yellow Island stock.

It's this innovation that has earned the company and the researchers a 2013 NSERC Synergy Award. The award will allow the team to expand their breeding program.

This project highlights the vital role and benefit of aquaculture research. Wild fisheries peaked 18 years ago but the human population continues to grow.

If we expect to continue eating fish as a main source of protein, we need to work out ways to make aquaculture environmentally friendly and socially acceptable," said Dixon.

To learn more about Yellow Island Aquaculture, Ltd. and their marine research facility please visit the Yellow Island Agriculture website.

Science in the mediaThis story has appeared in the following news outlets:

  • Council of Ontario Universities, "Valentine's Day: True love makes pacific salmon healthier"