The Aquaculture Research Group was created in 2013 as a collaboration between Moredun Research Institute (MRI) and Benchmark Animal Health (BAHL) to produce vaccines for the global aquaculture industry. Fish are an important source of protein, contributing around 6% of the protein consumed globally, and with the world population expected to increase to 9 billion by the end of 2050, aquaculture has the potential to meet increasing demands for protein. The aquaculture industry is growing rapidly, and it is estimated to produce around 85 million tonnes of farmed produce by 2030. Atlantic salmon is a major aquaculture species farmed in Europe (particularly Scotland and Norway), Chile and Northern America, and is the number one food export for Scotland, with a retail value of over £1 billion, making it a major player to the Scottish economy.
The incidence of disease outbreaks has hampered the expansion of the aquaculture industry. As well as reducing the supply of marketable produce, it can result in substantial economic losses to the farmer. Pathogens and parasites are estimated to be responsible for 5-7% annual losses in finfish aquaculture, representing somewhere in the region of £4-5 billion in lost revenue, globally. Attention is being given to disease prevention as a means of controlling disease outbreaks, based on improved fish husbandry and biological control methods such as vaccination and immunostimulation. Vaccination is now a routine part of disease management in many aquaculture systems. Atlantic salmon are often vaccinated against three to five diseases during their production cycle, often with a multivalent vaccine, and in 2011 nearly 50 million fish were vaccinated in Scotland alone. The strategy of vaccination has been so successful that the use of antibiotics in aquaculture has fallen dramatically. The Aquaculture Research Group is focusing on the development of new generation vaccines for global aquaculture.