£1.2M investment for WellFish Diagnostics to transform fish health in aquaculture

A new spinout company from the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) is set to transform health diagnostic practices in the £245 billion global aquaculture sector.

WellFish Diagnostics – which has developed the first non-lethal method for assessing fish health – will benefit from a £1.2 million investment from the University, Kelvin Capital and Scottish Enterprise.

Traditional fish health testing can take days before producing results and often requires lethal sampling. WellFish – the second spin-out company to emerge from UWS – has established a method to enable fish farmers to continually monitor the health of their fish population via blood sampling, in a unique approach developed by the company in conjunction with the salmon farming industry in Scotland.

CEO Brian Quinn, a Professor of Ecotoxicology within the School of Health and Life Sciences at UWS, is a two-time Converge Challenge finalist and winner of the 2019 European Aquaculture Society Innovation Forum.

He said: “WellFish presents a huge opportunity for the aquaculture sector to completely transform its practices for monitoring, responding to and predicting health challenges within the fish population. Traditionally, fish farmers would have to undertake a slower sampling and testing process, often requiring fish to be euthanised prior to sampling, to monitor fish health within their farms.”

The company is working with the entire Scottish salmon sector, a large trout farm, and producers in Ireland and Norway to provide fish farmers with technology and training to take their own samples, which are then sent to WellFish for testing. The company is based in a state-of-the-art laboratory at UWS’s Paisley campus.

Professor Quinn added: “We are the first-ever laboratory to offer a non-lethal method of examining fish health commercially. When fish farmers take their samples - which they are shown how to do using our kits and specialist training - they are then sent back to us in the laboratory where the data is interpreted using an algorithm-based AI model and presented back to farmers within 24 hours via our specialist website portal.

“It means farmers can make data-informed husbandry decisions, spot the early onsets of a potential health challenge and take proactive measures to reduce the impact, such as choosing to change feeding regimes or introducing early treatment to their fish populations.

Our company also enables farmers - and the wider aquaculture sector - to access our data and spot trends emerging over time, meaning we are also contributing directly to crucial knowledge transfer about fish health management practices within the sector and beyond. In this way, the farmers can provide their stock with the best health and welfare environments to the benefit of all parties.”

Professor Milan Radosavljevic, Vice-Principal, Research, Innovation & Engagement at UWS, said: “WellFish Diagnostics is a fantastic example of the pioneering research and innovation taking place at our University and highlights our commitment to supporting enterprise at UWS.

“I am delighted to see the team secure investment to create a spin-out company, which is testament to the team’s hard work and strong links with industry. It is inspiring to see the real-world benefits and impact WellFish Diagnostics will have on a truly global scale on health, welfare and sustainability within the aquaculture sector.”

The WellFish Diagnostics team is made up of six people, including key experts from the aquaculture industry, such as former Managing Director at Marine Harvest Scotland and Skretting UK, Dr Graeme Dear, as well as John Allan, former executive vice-president and CTO of healthcare diagnostics company, Quotient.  

WellFish is the result of an initial research and development project supported by the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), the UK Seafood Innovation Fund and Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spinout Programme. This research has also received funding from Innovate UK as well as cash and in-kind contributions from sector partners. The company has plans for rapid, international growth, with expansion into Norway in 2022 and further expansion into South America and Canada by 2023.

Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC, said: “WellFish is a prime example of what can be achieved through the projects we fund – genuinely innovative technology that has a significant impact on aquaculture, not only in Scotland but across the world. Enhancing fish health and welfare is a key part of the sector’s sustainability and we are excited to see how this technology can be applied at a global scale.”

Victoria Carmichael, Director of Growth Investments at Scottish Enterprise, said: “WellFish typifies the truly ground-breaking research projects our High Growth Spinout Programme was established to support. Its testing methods have the potential to revolutionise not only Scotland’s salmon farming industry, but the processes used by progressive fish farmers all over the world. The company and University of the West of Scotland can take great pride in their work.”

John McNicol, Director of Kelvin Capital, said: “The WellFish team have developed truly innovative technology that is set to transform the aquaculture sector on a global scale. The salmon industry is worth around $15.4billion with the main production sites in Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada, so WellFish Diagnostics are perfectly placed to disrupt this vast market and we are excited to be working with the team to help them achieve these goals.”

Read more articles