December 15, 2015, Vancouver, B.C. - Aquaculture is a key economic driver for the province of British Columbia, with farming of Atlantic salmon contributing more than $475 million annually to the economy. Integrating genomics into breeding programs allows aquaculture organizations to be more competitive and address certain conditions that may affect broodstock.
In conjunction with Marine Harvest Canada, Drs. Patricia Schulte and Tony Farrell have recently initiated a family-based breeding program to improve broodstock. The research, funded in part by Genome BC, is using genomics to explore the ability of farm-raised Atlantic salmon to tolerate low oxygen conditions (hypoxia) in the ocean. Hypoxia events are linked to increasing sea temperatures, resulting in less dissolved oxygen at higher temperatures, and changes in ocean currents that upwell large pockets of deep water low in oxygen.
“Improving the ability of salmon to tolerate hypoxia will be critical for the competitiveness of salmon farming in BC because episodes of hypoxia are becoming increasingly common along the BC coast, particularly in late summer,” says Dr. Schulte, Professor, Department of Zoology at UBC. “Hypoxia can be lethal for fish, and even at sublethal levels it has economic costs because food is often withheld during periods of hypoxia to help improve survival, and then additional feeding is required to allow catch up growth after the hypoxic episode.”
Hypoxic events represent an important economic cost to Marine Harvest, due to lost revenue resulting from poor fish performance, and it is anticipated that these losses will increase as the prevalence of hypoxia continues to rise. The long term goal of this research is to help Marine Harvest take a genomics-based approach to addressing this problem by increasing their capacity to incorporate hypoxia-tolerance as a trait in their broodstock selection program.
“Marine Harvest Canada is well positioned to take advantage of information regarding hypoxia-tolerance in their strains of fish by incorporating this phenotype into their breeding plans,” says Dr. Diane Morrison, Project Leader and Fish Health and Food Safety Director at Marine Harvest Canada. Yvonne Sheehan, Brood Program Manager, adds “moving towards genomics-based broodstock improvement will require genomic resources for the distinct strains that we use and this project is an important first step.”
Marine Harvest Canada has roughly 500 employees and produces 40,000 tonnes of farm-raised salmon each year, making it the dominant producer in this sector.
“The partnership between the UBC-based researchers and Marine Harvest Canada is exactly what we have in mind when addressing sector challenges,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “This work will have a significant positive impact on the economic outcomes for aquaculture in BC.”
This project, funded through Genome BC’s User Partnership Program (UPP), will acts as a proof of principle for the application of genomics to the Marine Harvest Canada broodstock program and a first step towards the long term goal of developing genomic selection for the BC aquaculture industry.
Better broodstock for Atlantic salmon genomic tools will offer insight for industry partners