Cod rearing programme sees first fish transferred to sea water

A programme which aims to breed cod in a bid to offset the depletion of wild whitefish stocks reached a major milestone this week with the transfer of the first batch of juvenile fish to the sea off Connemara.

The project, led by NUI Galway’s Martin Ryan Institute, has placed the specially bred juvenile cod into cages in the Trosc Teo fish farm. The fish, bred from a specific Irish strain, will be further reared to reach market size.

These are the first juvenile cod stocks produced under the research project, which is called EIRCOD and funded by the Marine Institute and the marine research sub-programme of the National Development Plan. The project came about in response to declining wild catches, caution over exploitation and depletion of fish stocks, and the need to diversify the Irish aquaculture industry.

The EIRCOD initiative’s overall objective is to design, establish, and operate a cod broodstock and breeding programme which is customised for the Irish environment and underpins the native fish farming industry.

According to Dr Richard Fitzgerald, senior scientist with the EIRCOD project at the Martin Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, the release of the fish is a significant step.

“This is the first time a native strain of cod has been bred and released in these numbers in Ireland,” he said. “While similar concepts are exploited with cod in Norway, Canada, and Iceland, this is the first occasion where a national breeding programme has been employed in this country. It represents a significant step forward and a major support for the Irish fish farming industry.”

The juvenile cod came from eggs collected off the south coast, then hatched and further reared at the Martin Ryan Institute’s facilities in Connemara. The parentage of these fish is known and the growth performance of the different groups will be monitored up to market size with the better performing groups being selected for use in future breeding activities.

“What we are doing, much as we do in cattle or sheep farming, is breeding the best stock we can,” Dr Fitzgerald added. “In this case, we are drawing on the genetic reservoir of local cod populations that are most suited to our coastal conditions. The objective is that these fish, when market size, will have been more disease resistant and have grown rapidly to market size.”

For the past four years MRI Carna has been the major performer in Ireland in this area and has conducted a programme of applied research to develop a national capacity to produce and rear fish.

John Kavanagh, director of the Ignite Technology Transfer Office at NUI Galway, says the technologies developed by MRI have huge potential.

“What we have seen at the Martin Ryan Institute is the rearing of ova through the larval phase, to juvenile fish,” Mr Kavanagh said. “The associated hatchery skills and specialist technologies have the potential for a new industry in Ireland. This is enabling technology that can be applied to other fish species leading to complementary seasonality and greater choice in the marketplace. There is a significant business opportunity in establishing a company to rear marine juvenile fish for the commercial sector.”

The EIRCOD project is led by NUI Galway’s Martin Ryan Institute in Carna with partners UCC, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Irish Seafood Producers Group, and Dr Ashie Norris. The project builds on work carried out by the Martin Ryan Institute and Trosc Teo over the past four years with the assistance of the relevant state agencies Údarás na Gaeltachta, Marine Institute, and BIM.

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