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The challenge

Protection from amoebic gill disease (AGD)

Scientists are working with Atlantic salmon growers to protect salmon from amoebic gill disease, a major health problem for the Tasmanian industry.

A close up of a Tasmanian Salmon showing the white spots on the gill, a sign of amoebic gill disease (AGD). ©  CSIRO, Peter Whyte

Atlantic salmon grown at marine farms in Tasmania are subject to a parasitic amoeba that attaches to their gills, causing a condition known as amoebic gill disease (AGD). While amoebic gill disease poses no risk to human health, the Atlantic salmon develop small white waxy spots on their gills, lose condition, have lower growth rates and can die if left untreated.

Managing AGD is estimated to cost the local industry $40 million a year in treatment and lost productivity as it affects fish growth and frequent freshwater bathing is required to detach the amoeba. The freshwater is in limited supply, and bathing is labour-intensive.

In the last few years AGD has also become a problem in other countries, so a solution could be worth $1 billion internationally.

Our response

Humble trout may hold the key

Treating the fish adds a cost of $1.50 per kilo to production, which prompted the Australian Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Tasmanian Salmonoid Growers Association to co-fund CSIRO's research into the disease.

CSIRO scientists are world leaders in pioneering commercially-applicable methods of combating amoebic gill disease, including breeding for resistance. Scientists are now looking at trout, a close relative of salmon, examining the mechanisms that make salmonoids resistant to the amoeba.

CSIRO researcher Dr Ben Maynard takes a sample from a Salmon as part of our amoebic gill disease (AGD) research. ©  CSIRO, Peter Whyte

The results

Initial results promising

The interspecies hybrid between the trout and Atlantic salmon may hold the key to solving this disease in salmon so CSIRO scientists are looking for genetic clues into what makes them disease-resistant.

While CSIRO's research is still at the experimental stage, initial results are promising.

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