Marrying technology with genetics to breed better fish

by Thomas Jensen
EM3 21 AQ Biomark

Biomark provides advanced technology solutions for broodstock management

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 3/2021.

Broodstock management lies at the heart of successful aquaculture production. Fish that better meet market demand are produced through generations of strategic breeding. Regardless of species or location, monitoring broodstock success requires careful analysis of breeding efforts and the ability to trace offspring.

RFID technology or PIT tag implantation is a popular solution for broodstock management. The ability to track individuals throughout their lifecycle is an effective strategy for observing the heritability of traits related to survival, growth, disease resistance, fecundity, etc. By incorporating genetic data with RFID tracking, managers can identify target genotypes associated with desirable traits, and then optimise breeding strategies to ensure the expression of those desirable traits in the hatchery population. The use of PIT tag unique identifiers is critical to separating fish with traits that foster successful stocks.

PIT tags for a variety of applications and ­budgets

Biomark offers a suite of Passive Integrative Transponder (PIT) tags that are a reliable, long-lasting (no reliance on battery power), and an effective low-profile technique for associating vast amounts of data to individual fish. These tags provide 100% unique identification (ICAR certification, ISO Standard 134.2 kHz tags) and are the highest performing RFID tags on the market today for use in fisheries, aquaculture and wildlife research and monitoring. Tags are available in different sizes, ­performance levels and packaging options to meet a variety of application needs and budgets. The smallest solution, the 8 mm HPT tag, has proven effective in fish as small as 45 mm in fork length, with no visible effect on behavior and growth1, 2, 3, 4. In larger species, the 12 mm APT tag is a common solution for tracking individuals and their offspring throughout generations, starting from 60 mm in fork length. The most common use in ­aquaculture is for salmon, trout, sturgeon, carp, turbot, sea bass, and sea bream. Biomark offers dedicated on-site training courses to properly mark fish with PIT tags.

Scientific advancements in the mapping of genomes, along with the continued development of affordable analytics, have changed the sampling industry, making it easier and quicker for producers to use DNA for parentage verification and genetic selection. The Biomark Tissue Sampling Unit (TSU) is an easy-to-use, cost-effective, high-performing system that collects a 3 mm fin/tissue notch, includes a DNA stabilisation environment (liquid buffer), and a transport medium. It is usable in all DNA laboratory settings without any restraints on existing DNA extraction protocols. Vials are marked with a unique barcode that can be read with a Biomark wireless TSU scanner, allowing for digital data association, i.e., the ability to pair a tissue sample to a PIT-tagged fish, developed to minimize sampling error and accelerate data collection.

Fully digital data ­collection reduces the risk of errors


In a step towards fully digital data collection, Biomark developed the Data Collection Module (DCM) that allows for the seamless pairing of PIT tag IDs and TSU vials with any other desired data by leveraging Bluetooth® functionality on existing devices (e.g., PIT Tag readers, electronic fish measuring board, scale, bar code scanner, and label printer). DCM measuring board and software allows, within a single platform, a fish or a shrimp to be tagged, scanned, measured, weighed, and tissue sampled, such that all of the data are recorded in real-time and associated with the unique PIT tag ID. Relying on digital data collection prevents common transcription errors (both on PIT tag ID as well as measurement error) and provides an efficient way to import associated tagging data.

Once data are all available digitally, standard monitoring tasks become more easily automated. The ability to track growth, survival, and maturation can occur in real-time from progression data. Being able to associate all data and metadata to individuals and a variety of groups (e.g., family, sex, rearing conditions, etc.) enables rapid sorting for monitoring and analytics. Upon ­detection of an existing tag, the DCM will display prior data, allowing managers to evaluate progress in real-time and/or separate fish of interest (e.g., nearing maturation, target breeders, etc.). Furthermore, these data are easily populated into a spawning matrix for state-of-the-art selection analyses.

Tags allow the ­evaluation of different variables on physical traits

In production aquaculture, PIT tags are being used for performance evaluations of real-life growing scenarios. Upon harvest, phenotypic traits (growth rate, disease resistance, fillet quality, abnormalities, etc.) are documented and associated with the unique ID for analyses. These data can be used to evaluate the effects of an assortment of variables, such as rearing condition, feed, and genotype (family) to real-life production standards, providing feedback for broodstock advancement. Customized PIT tag antennas can be installed at the processing plants to automate the sorting of tagged and untagged fish for further data collection.

Biomark is a worldwide supplier of electronic identification and related monitoring systems to fish and wildlife conservation communities and the aquaculture industry. The company designs, manufactures, and markets novel radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for fish and wildlife, specialising in PIT tag technology used in a broad variety of identification and monitoring solutions. Through advanced technology, Biomark develops services that prioritise the short- and long-term health and sustainability of fish, wildlife, and aquaculture, designed to deliver quality data necessary for critical management decisions.

Biomark is an aquaculture portfolio of digital products within MSD Animal Health.

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