U of G Prof on Winning Synergy Team

February 03, 2014 - News Release

A national research team -- including a University of Guelph professor -- that has increased salmon farming profits and sustainability won a prestigious award today from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

NSERC gave one of its Synergy Awards for Innovation to Guelph integrative biology professor Nicholas Bernier and researchers from four other universities in the Yellow Island Aquaculture Ltd. (YIAL) project.

The awards recognize university-industry collaborations that are models for effective partnerships; Bernier’s group won in the “small to medium-sized companies” category. The prize includes a $200,000 NSERC grant for the researchers and a two-year, $15,000 NSERC research fellowship for the industry partner.

“YIAL exemplifies the complementary nature of University and industry roles in executing groundbreaking research,” said Kevin Hall, Guelph’s vice-president (research).

“The interaction among the scholars and the farmers has been highly productive in terms of students trained, papers published and grants funded. Its success stems from the common objective of basic and applied research to support innovative and environmentally sustainable aquaculture.”

Headed by Prof. Trevor Pitcher, an expert in fish reproduction and genetics at the University of Windsor, the team has worked for 20 years to improve rearing techniques and genetic brood stock for commercial farming. Their work has helped British Columbia’s aquaculture industry become more profitable and sustainable.

The university researchers worked with John and Ann Heath of Heriot Bay, B.C., owners of YIAL. The couple needed university infrastructure and fundamental scientific expertise to solve problems, specifically how to farm salmon without using antibiotics.

Under the partnership, YIAL has become the first commercial salmon farm in Canada to convert to 100 per cent organic production of a native species, the Chinook salmon. The collaboration has increased YIAL’s annual revenues by $500,000 through higher-yield strains and reduced mortality in rearing stocks.

Annual sales further increased by $100,000 through the development of a triploid (sterile) technology that prevents crossbreeding with wild salmon populations, allowing for a longer growing season. Farming has not affected local marine conditions or fish populations, and no farmed fish have escaped.

“I am very pleased that YIAL was recognized by NSERC for their significant and ongoing support for fish biology research,” said Bernier, who has worked with the team since 1993.

“The owners of YIAL are quite unique among salmon farm operators on the west coast of Canada in providing research facilities and financial support to address a wide range of basic questions regarding the sustainable culture of Chinook salmon. My graduate students absolutely loved the time they spent there.”

Bernier characterized the swimming and growth performance of triploid fish, and assessed how mate choice and semi-natural rearing environments affect the regulation of growth and the stress response.

“While members of the research team may have diverse interests, it’s the synergy of our expertise and the essential support of YIAL that have allowed us to address some innovative questions for the sustainable culture and conservation of Chinook salmon.”

He said the partnership has helped team members obtain NSERC Strategic Grants to further their research.

Other team members include Daniel Heath and Dennis Higgs, University of Windsor; Brian Dixon, University of Waterloo; Bryan Neff, Western University; and Mark Shrimpton, University of Northern British Columbia.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or kgonsalves@uoguelph.ca.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1