AI and imaging technology to select best cleaner fish for salmon delousing

UK project will develop a tool to select the best ballan wrasse and adapt hatchery procedures and the rearing environment to encourage juvenile cleaner fish to develop the desired traits.

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November 29, 2022

Led by the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, Swansea University, and Otter Ferry Seafish, a consortium will investigate the best ways to identify high-performing ballan wrasse and lumpfish using artificial intelligence (AI) and imaging technology.

Funded by the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and supported by Loch Duart and Bakkafrost Scotland, the consortium also relies on Ocean Matters and Visifish, a machine vision company.

A previous study proved that bolder ballan wrasse is better to pick sea lice from salmon showing no hesitation when presented with foreign objects in their tanks. The research team is now exploring how to use this type of test on a commercial scale.

With 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. The results of the project will also be used to adapt hatchery procedures and the rearing environment to encourage juvenile cleaner fish to develop the desired traits.

The first stage of the project will involve the categorization of different traits such as boldness, shyness, social interaction, and even aggression, to see how the range of personalities perform at picking sea lice from salmon. The research will also develop group challenges to monitor how ballan wrasse and lumpfish with different personalities respond in social groups.

Field trials are expected to take place next year with the camera system tested with current cleaner fish populations at Loch Duart and Bakkafrost Scotland sites. Insights will then be integrated with imaging technology, which could be widely used by seafood producers to routinely monitor the behavior and welfare of cleaner fish.

“We produce cleaner fish for a specific job, so it makes sense to develop an appropriate selection process based on the different personality traits we know can influence delousing. With this new information, we can modify the rearing environment to encourage delousing behavior and select good delousers for breeding future generations,” said Adam Brooker, research fellow in aquatic animal behavior at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture. “Being able to identify the best delousers, based on behavior, could lead to significant improvements in the health and welfare of salmon and a reduction in the number of cleaner fish used. Seeing how cleaner fish behave when cohabiting will also help us understand how these fish interact with each other so we can account for this once they are integrated into producers’ sites.”

“So far, the research points towards bold cleaner fish being better delousers. However, the data is limited and a more robust model is needed for categorizing and identifying such personality traits. This project combines global behavioral expertise and will provide valuable information that could guide future selective breeding programs,” said Eduardo Jimenez Fernandez, R&D manager at Otter Ferry Seafish.