Postgrad conference grants: Gill Health Initiative

Rosslyn Watret – an MSc student undertaking Applied Marine and Fisheries Ecology at the University of Aberdeen – attended the Gill Health Initiative meeting in Bergen, Norway, with the help of two scholarships: one from her University, the other from the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).

Q: Why did you choose to attend the Gill Health Initiative (GHI)?
A: My thesis aims to look at the scoring methods for gill health across different countries, and how they differ. The GHI was perfect for me, as it was comprehensive and featured a range of countries (such as Australia, Chile and Norway), the challenges they’re facing, and the methods they use to score gills.

Q: How easy was it to apply for the SAIC grant?
A: When I was applying for Aberdeen, there was information about the SAIC scheme in induction emails and course manuals. I emailed to apply and Cori – an Aquaculture Innovation Manager at SAIC – replied quickly, guiding me through the process.

Later, while at the conference, I also spoke to Robin from SAIC who was attending. It’s much easier when people want to talk to you and help you, and also want you to make use of these studentships to attend conferences and Masters programme. They were proactive about wanting to help and supply the grant which was fantastic.

Q: Did the SAIC grant help you?
A: The SAIC grant definitely helped, especially with the little things while in Bergen. At the conference, people wanted to go out for dinner to get to know colleagues from across the world. Thanks to the grant, I was able to go out too and this was when I really got to know people, speaking to them about their work and their companies. I met attendees from Ireland, and found out differences between how Scotland and Ireland aim to tackle gill disease – for example, differences in freshwater versus hydrogen peroxide use, which is variable between the two countries.

Q: Do you think the conference helped you with your studies?
A: Absolutely – lots of the things I wrote about for my literature review were discussed there, and authors of papers I wrote about were speakers. There were also ideas emerging on issues that have not been the subject of papers yet, such as net cleaning practices. Australia, Chile and Scotland all highlighted that this was a problem, and there were ideas of where everyone needs to be going in the future. Ideas brought up were not just for one country, but what everyone should be co-operating on. There is the aim to collaborate and get people working together with no divide.

Q: Did anything unexpected come out of the conference?
Maybe not unexpected, but some things did surprise me. There was more of a focus on fish biology – looking further than just the pathogen. There’s so much more than the pathogen that should be looked at as well – the fish biology, genetics, and immune system. That was an eye-opener for me as previously my experience has been with people focusing on pathogen presence and removal, but maybe that’s not the best way to do it.

Q: What would you say the key messages from the conference were?
A: One, we should be collaborating on a global level, with global environmental epidemiology being a priority. Looking into why there are outbreaks of gill disease in certain areas – has there been an environmental variance such as an increase in salinity or temperature, or are there other factors at play

Two, there’s no single answer or approach to gill health disease. One management plan won’t work for all sites, even when those sites are highly similar in stock density, size and location. Equally, when looking at gill disease, we can’t narrow it down to just one agent – the industry is increasingly recognising the complex nature of gill disease.

Q: Will you be attending similar conferences in the future?
A: I’ll definitely attend similar conferences in the future – I want to move into gill health, whether it’s a PhD or another academic area. If I stay in academia, it is definitely worthwhile to keep up to date with what’s happening both in this country and all over the globe. This well-organised global initiative is the perfect way to keep up-to-date.