The project, led by the University of Stirling Institute of Aquaculture, Swansea University and Otter Ferry Seafish, will examine the best ways to identify high performance humphead wrasse and lumpfish using the artificial intelligence (AI) and imaging technology. The consortium has received funding from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Center (SAIC) and will be supported by Loch Duart, Bakkafrost Scotland, Ocean Matters and Visifish – a computer vision company.
A previous SAIC-funded study proved that ballan wrasse are probably better suited for the job of picking sea lice from salmon. The boldest fish showed no hesitation when confronted with foreign objects in their tanks, and the research team is now investigating how to use this type of test on a commercial scale.
The first step in the project is to categorize the different traits – such as boldness, shyness, social interaction and even aggression – and see how the range of personalities manage to pick the lice from the salmon. The information will then be fed into imaging technology, which could be widely used by seafood producers to regularly monitor the behavior and welfare of cleaner fish.
Like some job interviews, there will also be a group challenge with researchers monitoring how humphead wrasse and lumpfish with different personalities react in social groups.
Dr Adam Brooker, research fellow in aquatic animal behavior at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, said: “We are producing cleaner fish for a specific job, so it makes sense to develop a proper selection process based on the different personality traits that we know can influence delousing With this new information, we can modify the breeding environment to encourage delousing behaviors and select good delousings for breeding future generations.
“Being able to identify the best delousing, based on behavior, could lead to significant improvements in salmon health and welfare and a reduction in the number of cleaner fish used. Seeing how cleaner fish behave when they cohabit will also help us understand how these fish interact with each other so that we can take this into account once they are integrated into producer sites.
Using a new standardized personality test, the fish most likely to be the best at removing sea lice from salmon can be identified for future breeding programs. Project results will also be used to adapt hatchery procedures and the rearing environment to encourage juvenile cleaner fish to develop desired traits.
Field trials are due to take place next year with the camera system being tested with cleaner fish populations at the Loch Duart and Bakkafrost sites in Scotland.
Dr. Eduardo Jimenez Fernandez, R&D Manager at Otter Ferry Seafish, said: “Research so far indicates that bold cleaner fish are better skinners. However, data are limited and a more robust model is needed to categorize and identify these personality traits. This project combines worldwide behavioral expertise and will provide valuable information that could guide future selective breeding programs.
Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC, added: “Studying the behavior of cleaner fish provides a new and exciting insight into how the industry cares for and uses humphead wrasse and lumpfish to the best of its abilities. Different personalities are naturally better suited to different jobs among humans, so it’s fascinating to see that the same is true for these species. Building on previous SAIC-supported research and further combining academic and industry expertise, the development of new camera-based technology could transform the industry’s approach to using cleaner fish.
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