The collapse of the wild cod fishery off the east coast of Canada has led to a surge of interest in Atlantic cod farming.

Cod aquaculture has the potential to stimulate Atlantic Canada’s economy through research and innovation, economic diversity and employment, especially in communities that relied heavily on the wild cod fishery.

However, as with all new farming endeavours, parasites can cause challenges in mass cultivation of plant or animal species. One that impacts cod farming is Loma morhua, a microscopic parasite that hampers fish cultivation at levels below that required for industry development.

This is where the University of New Brunswick’s marine parasitology program and research scientist Michael Duffy come into the picture. Dr. Duffy and his research team are investigating the level of infection and impact of Loma on growth and mortality of farmed cod.

Aaron Frenette, a graduate student on the research team, has developed a test to diagnose Loma and to monitor infection levels. This is an important first step to assess impacts and options to bring Loma infections under control.

“Loma has been around for a while,” said Dr. Duffy. “It occurs naturally in wild cod, and is located in the internal organs and gills of fish. But it’s only since introducing cod to aquaculture that this has become a big problem. The high stocking densities in aquaculture sites lead to heavy parasite infections that can cause impaired growth and high mortality in farmed cod.”

In the worst cases, Loma can infect 100 per cent of cod in sea cages and impede the farmer’s ability to achieve peak production.

Infected cod do not pose any health threat to humans, but many fish don’t live long enough to get to the size needed for distribution in the consumer market.

Dr. Duffy’s research team has also adopted a multi-faceted approach to limit parasite transmission among cod at aquaculture sites and identify genetically resistant fish for use in breeding programs. They will also identify drugs that can block or eliminate parasite infections and will test methods to vaccinate cod and prevent parasite infections.

The project recently received $442,476 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Strategic Project Grants program. This funding will support continuation of work initiated by UNB and provide industry with research that will help identify solutions and tools that can enhance cod aquaculture development and economic opportunities for Atlantic Canada.

“Our project will train researchers in an area of priority towards establishing a significant cod aquaculture industry in Canada,” said Dr. Duffy. “Aquaculture specialists and infectious disease specialists are integral to Canada’s future successes in this target area for benefit to Canada’s economy, conservation of native species in the ocean environment (wild cod), and contributions to food demands in global society.”

The project has received substantial in-kind and logistical support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and industrial sponsor Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd., a division of Cooke Aquaculture Inc. Dr. Duffy’s co-researchers on the project are Drs. Tillmann Benfey, UNB; Lucy Lee, Wilfrid Laurier University; and Nels Bols, University of Waterloo.

UNB is one of the only universities in Canada that has research expertise and specialization in marine parasitology. Established in 1785, it is one of the oldest public universities in North America. As the largest research institution in New Brunswick, UNB conducts over 75 per cent of the province’s university research.

Contact:

Natalie
Montgomery
, Communication Officer (506) 453-4990

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