ECOLUMP: Characterizing the migratory strategies of Atlantic lumpfish to improve stock assessment of this commercially important species

Funding agency: The Research Council of Norway, Oceans Program, Researcher Project for Scientific Renewal
Project period: 2023-2028
Project leader: Caroline Durif, with Co-PIs Anne Berit Skiftesvik, Alessandro Cresci, Howard Browman +++

Project summary

The overall goal of ECOLUMP is to characterise potential subpopulations or ecotypes (hereafter only referred to as ecotypes) corresponding to different migratory strategies. To achieve this, we have outlined the following specific objectives (SO):

SO 1) Map the genome-level divergence of lumpfish in Norway and identify genomic regions separating the ecotypes, and the Norwegian lumpfish from the Icelandic ones
SO 2) Characterize the life-history traits of the “ocean migratory” and “fjord resident” ecotypes
SO 3) Develop a non-lethal biopsy method to determine individual ecotypes
SO 4) Validate ageing techniques for lumpfish
SO 4) Integrate this new knowledge into lumpfish stock assessment and design a roadmap toward a common lumpfish assessment between Iceland and Norway to understand the origins and dynamics of lumpfish found in the Norwegian Sea.

The main impediment to stock assessment and management of Atlantic lumpfish comes from the lack of knowledge concerning its population structure and migration patterns. Lumpfish sustains two types of fisheries: one targeting females for their roe, the other targeting mature individuals to produce cleaner fish for salmon aquaculture. Studies on lumpfish population genetics so far have been somewhat contradictory. Some have shown little to no structure along the Norwegian coast, while others have revealed clear genetic differences and cryptic groupings even at a local level. Lumpfish is semipelagic fish that spawns in shallow coastal areas in the spring. The rest of its life cycle is spent offshore in pelagic feeding areas. However, the presence of immature adults in coastal areas as well as anecdotal spawning events in autumn question the current description of the lifecycle. In project ECOLUMP, we hypothesize that some individuals do not migrate offshore but feed in coastal areas and that these individuals constitute a separate subpopulation or ecotype than the migratory individuals. To uncover this alternate life strategy, we will use an interdisciplinary approach including population genetics, and methods that will allow us to retrace the migratory history of the fish (i.e. microchemistry of calcified structures and stable isotope analyses). A non-lethal biopsy will be developed to determine individual ecotypes. The proportion of resident and migratory lumpfish targeted by both types of fisheries will be quantified during the project. Acoustic telemetry will be used on coastal lumpfish to further document their coastal-offshore movements and behavior after spawning. We will also test whether lumpfish display different innate orientation and migratory tendencies by comparing their swimming behaviors and orientation cues (visual or magnetic) in the sea and in a laboratory.

Understanding human-induced trophic cascades in coastal ecosystems (CASCADES)

Funding agency: The Research Council of Norway, Oceans Program, Researcher Project for Scientific Renewal
Project period: 2023-2027
Project leader: Arild Landa (NINA)
Work package 1 – Ecological impacts of fishing pressure, participants: Kim Halvorsen, Anne Berit Skiftesvik, Marthe Ruud, Tore Strohmeier, Øystein Varpe (UiB), Steven Guidos (NINA)

Project summary

CASCADES seeks to further our understanding of how current fisheries for wrasse, which are essential for de-lousing farmed salmon in the Norwegian aquaculture industry, impacts the stability and long-term health of our coastal marine food webs in western Norway. Specifically, we aim to determine what cascading effects the wrasse fishery has on other important marine species groups like shellfish and gadoids, as well as the wrasses themselves. The project aims to discover what the cascading impacts of this fishery are on a more holistic perspective by studying diet composition of semi-aquatic predators between areas of intense fishing activity and marine protected areas. This will allow us to gauge how entire food webs are impacted by fishing activities related to aquaculture, and even gather information on cascading effects outside of the marine environment. CASCADES will also define to what extent past industries – specifically mink (Neovison vison) farming continues to impact coastal ecosystems throughout Norway and Europe. The project will focus specifically on the invasive mink’s relationship with vulnerable seabirds and its main native competitor, the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra). CASCADES is expected to provide significant new insight into what the long-term ecological consequences of human activity in the coastal environment will be in a broad perspective.

Computer vision to expand monitoring and accelerate assessment of coastal fish (CoastVision)

Funding agency: The Research Council of Norway, Researcher Project for Scientific Renewal, Oceans Program
Project period: 2021-2025
Project leader: Kim Halvorsen
Project participants: Tonje Knutsen Sørdalen, Morten Goodwin, Diana Perry, Suzanne Alonzo, Cigdem Beyan, Holly Kindsvater, Howard Browman, Anne Berit Skiftesvik, Vaneeda Allken, Ketil Malde, Kristian Knausgård

Project summary
Effective monitoring and management of coastal ecosystems is limited by observation methods. Underwater cameras are increasingly being used to monitor and study coastal fish communities; a major bottleneck for upscaling their use is dependence on human experts for image and video analysis. CoastVision will use the power of deep learning to refine and extend a computer vision pipeline for detecting, classifying and sizing the key fish species in shallow water coastal ecosystems, facilitating a transition to fully automated video analysis. Our models will be trained on data sets from several different surveys, ensuring cost-efficient development of routines that will be widely applicable. Computer vision for re-identifying (re-ID) individuals solely based on their unique visible features will also be developed. This novel aspect of CoastVision could ultimately provide new opportunities to obtain detailed knowledge about behaviour and population dynamics in wild fish populations, with minimal negative impact on animals and habitats and at a low cost. Our focal species for re-ID are Atlantic cod, ballan wrasse and corkwing wrasse, commercially important species with complex, high-contrast skin patterns. To generate the necessary training data for re-ID we will use synchronized radio frequency identification and camera systems. CoastVision’s automated video analysis pipeline will be integrated into ongoing ecosystem surveys and case studies whose main objective is to better understand the factors that affects the reproduction, recruitment and survival of commercially important coastal species. As such, CoastVision will contribute to independent, but complementary, research objectives. The project will advance the international research front for applied machine learning in marine ecology, which ultimately can revolutionize our ability to observe, understand and respond to ecological change at scales far more refined than is currently possible.

Novel tools and knowledge for a future with no lice infestations in Norwegian aquaculture

Funding agency: The Research Council of Norway, Collaborative projects to meet challenges in society and business Program.
Project period: 2021-2024
Project leader: Nicholas Robinson (NOFIMA)
Workpackage leader for semiochemical WP: Aleksei Krasnov (NOFIMA) – Howard Browman, Anne Berit Skiftesvik and David Fields are participants in this WP.
Project summary
The overall aim of this project is to identify compounds (semiochemicals) that are associated with Atlantic salmon susceptibility and resistance to the parasitic copepodids Lepeophtheirus salmonis and Caligus elongatus and to develop tools that can be applied to boost Atlantic salmon resistance and reduce lice infestation in Norway. We have previously established that there is substantial genetic variation in susceptibility to L. salmonis within farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon populations and also detected some compounds released by the skin of Atlantic salmon that are associated with this variation. However the mechanisms triggering the release of these compounds, and their underlying genetic basis is still unknown. This project will identify host-specific semiochemicals (kairomones that attract and/or allomones that deter lice) within the Atlantic salmon population associated with the level of lice parasitisation, test whether measurement of semiochemical production could provide an accurate and more ethical phenotype (without challenge testing) for breeding to boost resistance, identify and test feed additives that could potentially block semiochemical attractant production or boost mucosal secretion of semiochemicals repelling lice and test for additional effects on the reproductive capacity of the lice and its epidemiology that might be derived from breeding for resistance. The research objectives and results of this project will integrate with those of a separate research project funded by FHF, and utilise results from our previous projects, to enhance genomic selection and prioritise candidate genes for manipulation via feed additives to produce salmon with full or high resistance. Outcomes will include improved fundamental knowledge of lice resistance mechanisms and development of tools that can be applied to boost genetic and non-genetic resistance to sea lice.

CrispResist – Harnessing cross-species variation in sea lice resistance to transform Norwegian salmon farming

Funding agency: Fiskeri- og havbruksnæringens forskningsfinansiering AS
Project period: 2021-2024
Project leader: Nicholas Robinson (NOFIMA)
Workpackage leader for semiochemical WP: Aleksei Krasnov (NOFIMA) – Howard Browman, Anne Berit Skiftesvik and David Fields are participants in this WP.
Project summary
Elaborate and document the potential for utilising genetic traits and mechanisms of salmon lice resistance in Pacific salmon as tools to achieve an Atlantic salmon with high or full salmon lice resistance – Identify and document genes and mechanisms responsible for the difference in salmon lice resistance between salmonid species – Elaborate and document the potential for utilising the identified genetic traits and mechanisms of salmon lice resistance as tools to achieve an Atlantic salmon with high or full salmon lice resistance – Conduct a risk evaluation on the possibilities for, and consequences of salmon lice adapting to Atlantic salmon with salmon lice resistance.

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Assessing the effects of offshore wind turbine facilities on fish early life stages

Funding agency: The Institute of Marine Research, North Sea Program.
Project period: 2020-2024
Project leader: Howard Browman
Co-investigators: Alessandro Cresci, Guosong Zhang, Anne Berit Skiftesvik, Caroline Durif
Project summary
The need to reduce fossil fuel emissions to combat global climate change has motivated a rapid development and expansion of sources of renewable energy, including large offshore wind farms (OWFs). To date, assessments of the potential effects of OWFs on marine organisms – needed to inform stakeholders and managers – have focused mainly on the construction phase – that is, on pile-driving. Very few studies have assessed lethal or sublethal effects of operational noise from OWFs, or electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from the subsea power cables that carry the energy produced from offshore to land. Besides a very small number of studies on the effects of simulated operational noise and static magnetic fields on fish embryos and hatching larvae, there is no information at all on the impacts of OWFs on the early life history stages of fish that either reside in or pass through OWFs. More effort is needed to investigate the possible impacts of OWFs on ichthyoplankton, particularly larval migratory behaviour or dispersal ecology.
Recruitment in commercially important fish is related, at least in part, to whether the early life stages disperse to areas that are suitable for survival. Dispersal of ichthyoplankton is determined by the combined effect of oceanographic features, active swimming, and directed orientation behavior. Active and directed orientation has recently been reported in the larvae of several commercially important species such as Atlantic haddock, Atlantic herring, saithe and European glass eel. Larvae use this ability to orient during their long-distance migrations and during dispersal from spawning grounds to nursery areas. We have also observed that exposure to very low levels of oil residues reduces the swimming speed and disrupts the orientation of Atlantic haddock larvae, demonstrating that sub-lethal effects of anthropogenic stressors can be subtle.
Measure and model the sound and EMFs associated with OWFs, and at various distances from the wind turbines, to establish realistic exposure levels for experimental and field work.
Assess the potential impacts of sound and EMFs associated with OWFs on the ability of the early life stages of fish to disperse, orient, and navigate in their environment.
Apply the information produced to develop a first-order risk assessment.

Fine-scale interactions in the plankton – empirical observations to parameterize trophodynamic and dispersal models

Funding agency: Institute of Marine Research, Marine Processes and Human Impact Program
Project period: 2021 – 2025
Project leader: Howard Browman
Co-investigators: Anne Berit Skiftesvik, David Fields, Caroline Durif

Project summary
This is a long-term project in which we make behavioural and physiological observations of ichthyoplankton and zooplankton, in the laboratory and in situ, with the aim of delivering empirical relationships on vital rates, swimming and orientation for parameterization of various components of ecosystem and trophic interaction models. For the laboratory-based observations, we use microrespirometry, electrophysiology, microspectrophotmetry, flumes, plankton kriesel tanks, a plankton grazing wheel, a magnetic coil system to manipulate the field orientation and strength to which organisms are exposed, and silhouette and schlieren imaging for behavioural observations of swimming and escape response kinematics. For the in situ work, we use Drifting in situ Chambers, passive acoustics and tagging.

Population dynamics of wild wrasse populations along the Norwegian coast

Funding agency: Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries + the Institute of Marine Research, Coastal Ecosystems Program
Project period: 2020 – 2024
Project Leader: Anne Berit Skiftesvik
Co-investigators: Howard Browman, Caroline Durif, Kim Halvorsen

Project summary
To assess the population dynamics and status of wrasse populations that are now exploited for use as cleanerfish on salmon farms.


Spatial structure and sensitivity of lesser sandeel to offshore energy production and fishing pressure – filling knowledge gaps for improved risk assessment (KnowSandeel)

Funding agency: The Research Council of Norway, Collaborative and Knowledge-building Project, Collaborative Project
Project period: 2024-2028
Project leader: Espen Johnsen
Project participants (from our team): Reidun Bjelland, Caroline Durif, Howard Browman, Alesandro Cresci, Anne Berit Skiftesvik

Project summary
There is an increasing awareness of the importance of lesser sandeel in the North Sea and Norwegian coastal ecosystem, and the overall goal of this interdisciplinary project is to combine new knowledge for increasing the habitat and sandeel management through an increased understanding of spatial structuring and variation in drift of larvae within the North Sea and the coastal area. The timing of this project is critical as the enormous recruitment of lesser sandeel in 2019 in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast give an opportunity to use microchemistry of otoliths of the same cohort from a wide geographical area. The output of these analyses will answer if the recruits along the Norwegian originated from the North Sea, and these results will be compared with the drift predictions made by the updated Ocean Modelling. The model will include new and important knowledge. For the first time, the swimming and orientation behavior of early-life stages of sandeel will be thoroughly studied and explained by external cues. The natural behavior of sandeel larvae studies will be studied using cultivated sandeel larvae, and several experiments will test with how sensitive are the larvae to the amplitude of anthropogenic effects. Behavioural studies in the field will be compared with ex-situ observations of larvae and post-settled sandeel to understand natural dynamics and variability of the sandeel behaviour. The new knowledge will be used to predict periods and areas with high density of sandeel, which can be used to develop dynamic area management strategies to reduce high risk of harm of various industries to sandeel and the marine ecosystem.