Control of infectious diseases in British aquaculture

Control of Infectious Diseases in British Aquaculture

The UK aquaculture industry is thriving. Salmon is the UK’s most valuable food export in 2017, worth more than £712M. A significant proportion of British aquaculture is based on fish farming rather than capture, making the spread of infectious disease faster and industry more vulnerable to pathogens. Mathematicians at the University of Liverpool are addressing the challenge by developing a simulator tool to model disease dynamics. This provides a data-driven approach to assessing island-wide strategies for controlling outbreaks.

The challenge

The economies of remote and rural areas in UK can be dependent on aquaculture as a provider of employment and prosperity. Understanding disease transmission dynamics and developing effective nation-wide control measures is critical in ensuring a sustainable and resilient aquaculture industry.

Dr Kieran Sharkey’s team, together with regulatory bodies within the British aquaculture industry, are working towards a data-driven approach to testing and improving national disease control strategies.

Research action

The team from Liverpool University has created a state-of-the-art simulator tool using methodologies from complex network theory. Using data from Cefas and Marine Scotland, the first island-wide analysis of network structures, including transportation and natural waterway connections, was created.

Network data of live fish movements was combined with a detailed list of disease and environmental parameters, allowing predictions of the threat posed by emerging infectious diseases to be generated. Extensive numerical simulations were performed using HTCondor, a high-throughput computing software.

Working in partnership

The project links experts from across the UK, drawing on data from project partners to form an island-wide network representing live fish movements. The current project is an expansion of work started in 2004, modelling the aquaculture networks of England and Wales, and now includes Scotland.

Project partners include the University of Stirling, Cefas, and Marine Scotland Science. The collaboration has developed a new multiscale simulation tool allowing site-specific sub-models of diseases dynamics.

Outputs and outcomes

The simulator has a user-friendly interface which can provide economically viable suggestions for controlling fish diseases that are under the stakeholder’s control. Interventions can therefore be targeted at high-risk areas, resulting in better control and helping to minimise commercial losses within the industry.

The results emphasise the importance of rapid detection and the importance of cross-border movements in large scale outbreaks. The team is now investigating how existing control strategies can be modified to achieve the best nationwide control policy, and the dialogue between regulatory bodies, Cefas and Marine Scotland, is on-going.

Advanced modelling tools using networks of live fish data allows practical predictions of disease threats to UK aquaculture, boosting resilience in this valuable UK industry.

Dr Kieran Sharkey

Back to: Department of Mathematical Sciences