Lene Sveen (left) and Elisabeth Ytteborg are working on skin health in farmed salmon. The skin reflects the environment the fish live in. PHOTO: JON-ARE BERG-JACOBSEN © NOFIMA

Project Year 2017

Salmon skin – a living sensor

 Fish health  

Nature can often outperform the most sophisticated man-made systems – if we look closely enough. Salmon skin is a case in point.

Do salmon thrive in pens, or are there factors that impair their welfare, health and quality? This growth industry needs systems to continuously monitor the environment in closed facilities. Our research shows that salmon’s own skin can do just that – much like a living sensor.

Ideal monitor

“Fish skin protects the fish against the environment, blows and infections, and it reacts quickly and adapts to changes in the environment, making it ideal for biological monitoring of fish welfare and health,” says Nofima scientist Elisabeth Ytteborg.

At the CtrlAQUA centre for research-based innovation, Nofima is researching monitoring of fish health and water quality in closed facilities, focusing on the outermost cells of fish skin. Both skin layer thickness and the number of mucous cells are important indicators and change with the surroundings.

Reflects the environment

Fish were tested in various environments. The tests showed that stressed fish from flow-through systems had thinner skin layers, while fish from recycling facilities had a higher number of mucous cells.

“We found that the fish’s skin reflects the environment it lives in. This means we can take samples of fish skin that have ‘stored’ information about the environment and analyse them to monitor fish welfare,” says Ytteborg.

It is too early to conclude which type of facility is better. It is the cells and the biology behind these experiments that is the main finding and of value now.

“We are now looking for easy ways to use this living sensor to assess the conditions in pens. This is an important finding that can be used to monitor the fish and the water, and generally improve how we farm salmon in closed systems,” the Nofima scientist concludes.

21 industrial and research partners in Norway and overseas

The Research Council of Norway

More useful research results