In the Spotlight: Sofia ENGROLA, Cláudia ARAGÃO and Rita COLEN

i) What is your contribution to the MedAID project?
In MedAID we are working in WP1 – Holistic sustainability assessment of Mediterranean aquaculture: zootechnical, environmental, economic, social and governance, participating in the Data Collection Working Group. We have been interviewing collaborative farms in order to gather technical and socioeconomic information that will help to define typologies of Mediterranean aquaculture farming.
We are also working on WP2 – Improving zootechnical performance. This workpackage will address current gaps in fish feeding, management practices and fish behaviour and welfare. Thus, WP2 will focus on the main Key Performance Indicators (KPI) identified by the industry for European seabass and gilthead seabream, like growth rate and feed efficiency. Research will focus on assessing the optimal feeding strategies in order to reduce the adipose tissue in commercial-sized fish through the evaluation of lean and fat fish and feeding regime effect on lipid accumulation and the effect of feed composition and temperature on fat deposition, the assessment of rearing conditions to improve juvenile quality and fish welfare studying the effects of temperature during larval development and of the optimal water current inducing swimming behaviour during the entire on-growing cycle (sea cages/inland facilities), the effects of fish density and daily feeding frequency on KPIs, and optimizing feeding strategies during unfavourable farming conditions, including the development of functional feeds. In this context, an improvement in rearing conditions and feeding strategies are a fundamental aim to improve the KPIs. Within WP2 we are working in Task 2.3. – Optimize feeding strategies during unfavourable farming conditions for gilthead seabream juveniles. Water temperature influences the fish ingestion, conversion efficiency, metabolism, growth rate and welfare. We will investigate how diet formulation may improve gilthead seabream performance during low (Winter) and high (Summer) temperature periods. The close collaboration between research and industry partners in MedAID will ensure that the outcomes of the WP are practical, relevant and aligned with the industry needs.

ii) Why is this research needed?
There is a growing concern for the ability to produce enough food to feed the global human population in the future. To maintain the actual per capita average fish consumption without further improvements expected from fisheries, aquaculture production will have to increase by 70% and this will depend on its capacity to expand while reducing environmental impact. Furthermore, intensive aquaculture practices frequently expose fish to stressors such as loading and transport, handling, vaccinations or grading. Fish in culture are also exposed to environmental stressors, such as temperature fluctuations, which may affect fish growth and feeding efficiency. Although best practices may reduce stress to some degree, these stressors are inherent of intensive aquaculture. Nutritional modulation is a powerful tool that may be used to minimize the negative effects of stressful operations/events. The optimization of dietary formulations may help fish to cope with stress, but also to reduce feed conversion ratios and to increase nutrient retention, which will ultimately result in a lower environmental impact of the aquaculture industry.

iii) What are the main expected outcomes/or possible impacts on the sector?
MedAID understands that industry solutions have to come from a complete assessment of the whole sector. This will allow the complex and ambitious exercise of integration of knowledge needed to bridge the gap between fundamental knowledge and development of practical applications for the industry. In this sense, we intend that the research we develop within the MedAID project may contribute to determine optimal conditions for improving juvenile performance during ongrowing and improve health and stress tolerance using nutritional modulation and that this information may be applied to the Mediterranean aquaculture sector. The final aim is to be able to translate the research results directly to the feed producers and fish farmers, through the development of more environmental and economically sustainable feed formulations for gilthead seabream production.

iv) What other projects/activities are you working on?
Partner CCMAR is also working in several national and international projects:
• Project AQUAEXCEL2020 (2015-2020) – The project integrates 39 top class European aquaculture research facilities that cover all relevant scientific fields, fish species and systems. The project will provide a single access portal to high-quality, harmonised services and resources tailored to the needs of the European aquaculture community, support and conduct world-class research and provide the basis for a European aquaculture innovation system from basic research to applied science.
• Project EMBRIC (2015-2019) – The European Marine Biological Research Infrastructure Cluster is designed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and innovation from marine Bio-Resources. EMBRIC aims to promote new applications derived from marine organisms in fields such as drug discovery, novel foods and food ingredients, aquaculture selective breeding, bioremediation, cosmetics and bioenergy.
• Project ASSEMBLE Plus (2017-2021) – The project will provide scientists from academia, industry and policy with a quality-assured programme of Transnational Access (TA) and Virtual Access (VA) to marine biological stations offering a wide variety of marine ecosystems, unique marine biological resources, state-of-the-art experimental and analytical facilities with integrated workflows, historical observation data, and advanced training opportunities.
• Project PROLAR (2018-2020) – The project main objective is to promote intestinal maturation and functionality and concomitantly digestive efficiency without compromising survival and fitness in fish larvae through early nutrition and metabolic programming.
• Project INFLAMMAA (2018-2021) – The project main objective is to provide a better understanding of the underpinning neuro-endocrine and immune machinery of fish fed tryptophan supplements and to deliver a deeper understanding of the basic mechanisms involved during inflammation using the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) as a model. 
• Project ValorMar (2018-2020) – The project will develop innovative technological solutions that will increase the valorisation and efficient use of marine resources through the integration of value chains, based on the circular economy concept, and combining aquaculture, food industry, biomedical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics.
• Project WISEFEED (2016-2018) – The project main objective is to implement a collaborative effort to promote the sharing of knowledge and competencies around development of improved feeding strategies, to increase lean growth and at the same time to reduce N-waste in selected key farmed fish species. The final applied aim is to implement the findings into innovative products and services in the industrial partners.

Sofia ENGROLA, PhD, Researcher
Cláudia ARAGÃO, PhD, Researcher
Rita Colen, MSc, Research Assistant
Centro de Ciências do Mar (CCMAR), Universidade do Algarve, Portugal.

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