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Netting Fish

Research “Down Under” Raises Bar for Global Aquaculture Practices


Idaho and Tasmania, though a hemisphere apart, have some unique commonalities where aquaculture is concerned. Tasmania is the only place where salmonids are commercially raised, but the fry are also susceptible to many diseases. The University of Idaho was the first in the nation to patent a fish vaccine that could benefit salmonid aquaculture worldwide.

Ken Cain working with studentsKen Cain, professor of fisheries resources, completed a postdoctoral experience in Australia in 1998, which jump-started his career as a leading fish health expert at the University of Idaho. Cain went on to lead the team of scientists that developed a fish vaccine for bacterial coldwater disease (CWD). This deadly infection is the No. 1 problem for Idaho’s trout fisheries, which supply 75 percent of all trout sold in supermarkets and restaurants across the United States. This vaccine discovery, which could result in $10 million in savings annually for Idaho's commercial trout industry alone, has garnered international attention due to the monumental implications for fisheries around the world.

Now Cain is applying his knowledge and innovative approaches to fish disease control and vaccine development to improve Tasmania’s aquaculture practices.

In 2011, Cain returned to Australia to complete a four-month sabbatical in Tasmania – to improve ways to combat yersiniosis and amoebic gill disease, two major diseases that significantly impact the Atlantic salmon industry there. He worked collaboratively with Barbara Nowak, a professor in the National Centre for Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability at the University of Tasmania.

“In Idaho, we vaccinate salmon for enteric redmouth disease, which is similar to yersiniosis in Tasmania,” says Cain. “There is a great potential for Nowak’s group to use our success with this vaccine to help their salmon industry.”

Cain also assisted Nowak’s group on ways to control a blood parasite that affects southern bluefin tuna, a popular staple in Japanese sushi markets. In South Australia, bluefin tuna are commercially reared in ocean net pens for such markets. Cain reports that aquaculturists there are working hard to close the life cycle so they can spawn adults and rear juveniles to harvest size.

Though this trend is in its infancy, completing the life cycle would reduce pressure on wild bluefin tuna and may allow rebuilding of tuna stocks in other countries, where they have been severely impacted.

“We have the possibility to learn from other countries’ technology and transform aquaculture in the U.S.,” said Cain. “Currently, over half of the world’s seafood is supplied from aquaculture operations, and the demand will rise as marine species are tapped out. The United States will be better positioned to sustainably produce seafood and provide economic incentives and benefits.”

During his sabbatical, Cain also spent time working on scientific manuscripts, teaching a fish immunology workshop, giving presentations to the aquaculture industry, research groups and government labs, and advising students in Nowak’s program. He is currently working to establish a student exchange program that would allow Tasmanian and Idaho fisheries students to study in both countries and gain valuable lab and field experiences as well as academic credits.