Mr. Sean Connick, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, today (27th July) visited EIRCOD, a state-of-the-art cod breeding project at the NUI Galway Carna Laboratory in Connemara. The project is aimed at designing, establishing and operating a cod broodstock programme customised for the Irish environment and underpinning the native fish farming industry.
Minister Sean Connick, T.D. and Dr. Richard Fitzgerald of NUI Galway (Carna) with cod broodstock fish. (Photo: Aengus McMahon).
“The benefits from supporting the development of an emerging cod farming industry in Ireland are many,” said Minister Connick, whose Department has already highlighted the need to research and develop alternative aquaculture species on a commercial and profitable scale in its recent Food Harvest 2020 Report. “In addition to the obvious socio-economic benefits accrued by coastal communities, such an industry would contribute positively to Ireland’s aquaculture and seafood sectors by offering species diversification and high value added products.”
The scientists, working in NUI Galway and University College Cork on the EIRCOD project, were funded under the Sea Change national marine knowledge, research and innovation strategy, co-ordinated by the Marine Institute.
Sea-reared cod (Photo: Cushla Dromgool-Regan, Marine Institute)
“Sea Change supports a range of fishery and aquaculture projects, all designed to build a better understanding of factors that contribute to improving the competitiveness of Ireland’s marine food sector,” said Dr. Peter Heffernan of the Marine Institute. “There is a strong scientific link between the EIRCOD project and another Sea Change-funded project in Cork on fish genetics where scientists at UCC are developing new DNA tools to help identify unique strains of cod.”
Leading fish geneticist Professor Tom Cross who, with his team at UCC, are partners in EIRCOD stated “we are using the latest genomic approach to assist the NUI Galway cod breeding programme and increase knowledge of wild stock structure. This invokes next generation sequencing of part of the cod genome allowing us to detect many thousand microsatellites and SNPs (as used in human forensics) and also functional genes involved with traits important in farmed production.“
As well as being partners in EIRCOD, the UCC group is also funded by the Beaufort Fish Population Genetics Award from the Irish government with Dr Phillip McGinnity as Principal Investigator.
(Photo: Aengus McMahon).
The first three years of EIRCOD saw the transfer from NUI Galway’s Martin Ryan Institute (MRI) Carna Lab to the Trosc Teo fish farm in Connemara, Co. Galway of specially bred juvenile cod, reared from eggs collected from the Celtic Sea off the South coast of Ireland.
The parentage of these fish is known and the growth performance of the different groups are monitored up to market size with the better performing groups being selected for use in future breeding activities. These fish are being selectively bred as a specific Irish strain. As part of this work, the researchers track and benchmark the Celtic sea cod in the farm situation and compare performance with farmed and wild stocks in Ireland and elsewhere.
Majbritt Bolton-Warberg, a fish biologist at NUI Galway’s MRI facility in Carna explains: “It appears that these Celtic sea cod, grown in Irish waters and at our higher water temperatures, display faster growth rates in the early years of life than those in more northerly European countries. This gives a significant commercial competitive advantage to Ireland”.
By 2011 the EIRCOD project will have had adult cod at sea for the past four years with in excess of 50 unique family groups, many of which will be reaching their sexual maturity. It will therefore be possible for researchers to selectively breed these fish for the first time; identifying and actively selecting the best performers and applying classical breeding techniques that have been used for centuries in agriculture to give a better performing stock and applying them to fish farming.
According to Dr Richard Fitzgerald, Senior Scientist with the EIRCOD project at NUI Galway, “the work of the EIRCOD partnership has underpinned the ongoing development of an innovative sustainable and profitable cod farming industry in Ireland through this strategic breeding programme. In addition, we are putting the final touches to a report ‘An Economic Assessment of Cod Farming in Ireland’ where we have identified several opportunities for the cultivation of cod on the western seaboard of Ireland.”
The EIRCOD project is carried out under the Sea Change strategy with the support of the Marine Institute and the Marine Research Sub-programme of the National Development Plan 2007–2013, co-financed under the European Regional Development Fund. It is led by NUI Galway’s Martin Ryan Institute in Carna, Co. Galway with partners UCC, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), Irish Seafood Producers Group, Trosc Teo and Dr Ashie Norris, consultant. The project builds on work carried out by the Martin Ryan Institute and Trosc Teo over in the past with the assistance of the relevant state agencies Údarás na Gaeltachta, Marine Institute, and BIM.