Thursday, October 14, 2010

4-Day Field Exercise: Aquaculture Potential of Campbeltown Loch

Salmon farm in Loch Fyne
This week our MSc class loaded onto two minibuses and drove 4 hours from Stirling to Campbeltown Loch, a small bay on the west coast of Scotland. There, we conducted a field exercise in aquaculture site selection, attempting to take all the different biological, environmental, and social factors into account and select an appropriate fish farming site within the loch.

On the drive up on Monday, we visited a commercial salmon farm in Loch Fyne. At this facility, state-of-the-art underwater cameras are used to monitor the fish during feeding: a computer program monitors the fish and recognizes uneaten food pellets falling past the camera. When this occurs, the computer automatically shuts off the feeders, preventing the release the excess food and minimizing the environmental and economic loss associated with this problem.

On Tuesday, we split into small groups to conduct field work in the morning. We went out on the loch in boats to take water and sediment samples, as well as monitor the currents using drogues and GPS positioning equipment. Additionally, we toured the coastal town to discuss the social impacts of an aquaculture site on the local economy. The objective of the exercise was to distill the information gathered and select a site within the loch for an aquaculture venture. In our groups, we were to select a site, choose a species to farm, and then defend our decisions in front of the class and our professors. This group work, and the resulting presentation, was done on Wednesday.

Tuesday afternoon we were given the opportunity to tour the Machrihanish Fish Farm, another commercial and research facility owned and operated by the University of Stirling. Here, we saw their revolutionary wrasse program, where they are growing cleaner wrasse to be used as biological pesticides of sea lice in salmon cages. The wrasse eat the lice directly off the salmon, reducing the need for chemicals in the environment. Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that the wrasse eat bio-fouling organisms off the nets, adding an additional level of value to their use!

Loch Fyne Oyster Farm
Thursday we returned to Stirling, but on the way stopped at a salmon hatchery, as well as an oyster and mussel farm. These visits were very enlightening, and gave us some exposure to the wider aspects of the aquaculture industry in Scotland.

Overall, the trip was incredibly valuable, as this was a real-world scenario and we were given direct access to the site. We discovered that it is difficult to balance all the factors involved in site selection, but in the end the six different groups all produced six different viable ventures!

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