Atlantic salmon

A vaccine is being developed to help manage amoebic gill disease in Atlantic salmon.

A vaccine for gill disease in Atlantic salmon

Scientists are working with Atlantic salmon growers to develop a vaccine against amoebic gill disease, a major health problem for the Tasmanian industry.

  • 2 August 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

Atlantic salmon grown at marine farms in Tasmania, Australia, are subject to a parasitic amoeba that attaches to their gills, causing a condition known as amoebic gill disease (AGD).

Managing AGD is estimated to cost the industry A$15 million a year in treatment and lost productivity as it affects fish growth and frequent freshwater bathing is required to detach the amoeba. The freshwater is in limited supply, and bathing is labour-intensive.

An effective vaccine would improve fish welfare through the summer months, reduce or eliminate the need for freshwater bathing, and potentially improve salmon growth rates, making Tasmanian salmon more cost-competitive in the global market.

Vaccine development

The AGD vaccine project began in June 2002. It is led by CSIRO through the Food Futures Flagship, funded by the Aquafin and Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centres and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, and supported by industry.

The past five years of vaccine development research has:

  • identified genes in the amoeba that represent the most logical vaccine candidates, and incorporating these in experimental vaccines
  • tested the experimental vaccines in laboratory trials in collaboration with the University of Tasmania
  • selected a candidate vaccine that performed well in the laboratory trial.

Commercial trials

The next phase of the research will determine how well the vaccine protects against chronic levels of infection in fish grown under commercial conditions at sea.

An effective vaccine would make Tasmanian salmon more cost-competitive in the global market.

Huon Aquaculture Company, on behalf of the Atlantic salmon industry, is providing the facilities for the at-sea trials which involve:

  • tagging 3 000 one-year-old fish at the Salmon Enterprises of Tasmania (Saltas) freshwater hatchery at Wayatinah (June 2007)
  • vaccinating half the fish, and treating the other half with a ‘control’ injection not containing the vaccine (July 2007)
  • transferring the fish to six sea cages at the Huon Aquaculture Company marine farm at Hideaway Bay in the Huon estuary, Tasmania (August 2007).

The salmon will be bathed in freshwater over the spring and summer according to standard commercial practice. At each bathing event, each fish will be weighed, measured and assessed for the presence of gill amoebae.

The vaccinated salmon are expected to have fewer amoebae, and therefore to require less frequent freshwater bathing, or fewer bathings during the grow-out period.

Another project in collaboration with the Tasmanian industry is Breeding better salmon through a selective breeding program for Atlantic salmon.