As much as 10-15 % of all farmed salmon smolt does not survive the transition from freshwater to salt water, and this is a great challenge for the Norwegian salmon farming. In the Synchrosmolt project we aim to improve smolt production protocols and innovate breeding strategies to produce salmon that have better health and growth in the sea.
Even though the Atlantic salmon lives in the ocean as adults, their lives start in fresh water. In the wild, salmon spends about 2-5 years in the river before they undergo a physiological transformation called “smoltification”, encompassing changes in metabolism, growth, colouration, and sea water tolerance. Under natural conditions, the timing of this smolting process is regulated by both body size and environmental cues such as water temperature and daylength.
The farmed fish, however, is kept under (often) highly unnatural light and temperature conditions before they are released into sea cages after less than one year. A substantial (10-15%) proportion of these farmed produced smolts develop serious health problems or die. We believe that by optimizing smolt production protocols for farmed salmon we can increase the synchronization of smolting – resulting in more fish being ‘optimally’ prepared for a life in the sea.
Light on / light off?
The project Synchrosmolt – Smolt production protocols and breeding strategies for synchronized smoltification – aims to providing new knowledge about how exposure to variation in daylength during smolt production can affect smolt development. If the project succeed, smolt producers can produce more physiologically uniform population of smolt, which will help improve animal welfare, growth and survival of farmed salmon in the sea water phase.
Can we breed for similar response to light?
On the longer term, the researchers in Synchrosmolt will also investigate if genetic variation in the fish’s response to smoltification regimes can be exploited to breed fish with more synchronised smoltification. The researchers will search for correlations between specific mutations in the genomes and the smolt development timing under different daylength regimes. This work has the potential to result in precise molecular markers which can be used to select for fish that will have a more similar (synchronous) smolt development.
Project information and funding
The Synchrosmolt project is funded by Fiskeri- og havbruksnæringens forskningsfinansiering (FHF), providing a total funding of 15 mill NOK. The project will run for 3 years, starting up January 1st 2020.
Simen Rød Sandve, Associate professor at CIGENE, NMBU, is the project leader and together with Turid Mørkøre they will perform NMBU’s contributions to the project. Other partners are MOWI, Nofima and University of Tromsø.