Worldwide demand for fish and shellfish has increased 9% annually over the last few decades and is expected to reach c. 180 million tons by 2015, most of which will have to come from farmed fish, as the majority of wild fisheries are either stagnant or grossly over-exploited. Fisheries in Wales contribute approximately £30 million/year to rural and coastal economies, and the Welsh Government aims to double aquaculture production by 2020. However, to achieve long-term sustainability and meet food security demands, aquaculture needs to diversify and to step-up the domestication of aquatic species, which will have to thrive on less food, less space, and less water, all compounded by warmer temperatures. Thus, the main challenges faced by intensive aquaculture are (a) reducing its ecological footprint, (b) reducing the risk of disease transmission, and (c) controlling the inadvertent introduction of invasive species.
The AQUAWALES Research Cluster combines academic and non-academic participants, including stakeholders and local government involved in policy and regulation, and will target these challenges by capitalising on the diverse and complementary expertise of the group (from behavioural ecology to genomics, citizen-science and fisheries policy). Our project combines three critical aspects related to sustainable aquaculture, namely domestication, disease resistance and introductions of aquatic invasive species. We will use a multidisciplinary, cutting-edge approach to bridge – for the first time – the genetic and environmental (epigenetic) components of fish undergoing domestication. The novelty of our approach is to consider simultaneously the roles of genetic and non-genetic effects on fish domestication and response to crowding (stress and parasite susceptibility), an aspect often neglected in breeding programs, and to investigate the potential effects of climate change on the risk of expansion and establishment of non-native aquatic species associated with aquaculture and fisheries using state-of-the-art methods. We will also develop an innovative citizen-science programme that will target the angling community and also school children and the general public to ensure that our project achieves societal impact and reaches all potential stakeholders.