• underwater image of seaweed


Evaluating the potential of aquaculture diversification (IMTA) to improve nutrition and ecosystem sustainability in the UK


Aquaculture provides nearly half of the world’s seafood, but it continues to struggle to grow in the EU. Despite the UK being one of the largest EU aquaculture producers, the UK’s salmon-dominated industry faces challenges from health and welfare, to the management of environmental interactions and social licence to operate. As diet and nutrition have an increasingly important role in tackling the rising burden of chronic noncommunicable disease in the UK, seafood production through aquaculture is in a unique position to contribute to healthy and sustainable diets, if the aforementioned barriers are adequately addressed.

Seafood is an essential component of a healthy diet, being the only animal-based source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and a rich source of minerals, such as iron, iodine, selenium and zinc, and vitamins, especially B12 and D3. Notwithstanding, consumption of oily fish in the UK is less than half of the recommended intake and consumption is currently reliant on a handful of species.

Diversifying production and consumption, especially towards lower trophic species, has long been recognised for its environmental sustainability potential as well as bioremediation benefits, in particular when lower trophic species (such as seaweed or bivalves) are cultured in proximity of fed-species (such as salmon) in Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems. However, despite IMTA being often seen as the silver bullet by policy-makers and of the proven track-record in Asian countries, these systems have stuggled to take-off commercially in Europe.  Bottlenecks to their commercial adoption by the industry in UK include, among others, uncertain profitable markets and limited market options for the co-cultured species, technical multi-operational complexity and logistical constraints, inadequate or unsupportive policies or incentives to industry, time to progress R&D and knowledge of production of novel species.

Project Goal

This project will address the challenges of health, sustainability and resilience within the UK food system by supporting the diversification of UK aquaculture and the transition towards IMTA systems. Diverseafood will investigate the contribution of IMTA systems to the nutritional value of produced seafood and to the reduction of negative environmental impacts, and explore options to address regulatory, consumer acceptance and business model challenges to the diversification of UK aquaculture.

Diverseafood approach

The project takes a food systems approach to production and consumption of aquaculture products, with key questions simplified in the diagram below. Specifically Diverseafood will evaluate (i) the contribution of IMTA to total poly-unsaturated fatty acids budgets from aquaculture, (ii) the socioeconomic value of ecosystem services associated with IMTA, (iii) existing regulatory barriers to the adoption of IMTA and policy interventions to diversify UK aquaculture production, (iv) consumer acceptance of a diversity of seafood products from aquaculture within an increased sustainability context, and (v) existing and emerging business models that can disrupt the current business-as-usual situation in seafood production in the UK, so as to unblock existing barriers to the development of the sector.

To achieve this, the project will involve a range of producers, retailers and policymakers and is always looking for opportunities to widen its stakeholder network. If you are interested to participate or want to know more, please contact the project lead (sofia.franco@sams.ac.uk) or work package leads directly.

While we endeavour to keep the information below as up to date as possible, this is not always possible, so please email us if you are interested the latest update. The details below were correct as of October 2019.

Progress to date

WP.1 Developing and coupling models of poly-unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) dynamics, farmed species culture performance and ecosystem dynamics within IMTA (lead by SAMS; Dr Sofia Franco)

Scientific objectives: (i) Explore the potential of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) to improve poly-unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) budgets of aquaculture systems; (ii) Improve the understanding of modulators of PUFA dynamics in aquaculture; and (iii) link variability in Atlantic salmon feed composition to changes in PUFA dynamics and farm-level environmental footprint.

Ongoing work: (i) Development and parameterisation of a mass balanced model for PUFA for Atlantic salmon, blue mussels and sugar kelp; (ii) Creation of a new size-dependent consumption model for blue mussels; (iii) Development of a new faeces model for Atlantic salmon to incorporate the influence of dietary composition on the apparent digestibility coefficients; (iv) Development of FYNE, a new graphical user interface that simulates an IMTA farm and presents real time results of changes in cultured species fatty acids and other characteristics, and carbon and nitrogen concentrations in response to operational choices; (v) Preparation of experimental work to quantify changes in sugar kelp PUFA composition when cultured in water enriched with outputs from salmon farming (i.e. faeces, excess feed).

Team: Dr Alan MacDonald; Dr Natalia Serpetti; Dr Sofia Franco 


WP.2 Existing and emerging business models (lead by the UoM; Dr Maria Sharmina maria.sharmina@manchester.ac.uk)

Scientific objectives: (i) Identify existing business models within the aquaculture sector and assess their alignment with circular economy principles and mechanisms of resilience; (ii) Develop innovate business models within the aquaculture production sector that align with these principles.

Ongoing work: : (i) Compiling and analysing a database of business models in the seafood sector based on existing secondary data; (ii) Conducting a stakeholder survey to assess the seafood business models’ alignment with the circular economy and resilience principles; (iii) Designing stakeholder workshops to develop new business models.

Project participants: We are collaborating with a range of innovative companies, including Cupid Trading Ltd., The Fish Shop and JCS Fish.

Team: Dr Rebecca St Clair rebecca.stclair@manchester.ac.uk; Dr Carly Fletcher (former team member); Dr Maria Sharmina maria.sharmina@manchester.ac.uk 


WP.3 Seafood consumption (lead by NU; Luca Panzone luca.panzone@newcastle.ac.uk)

Scientific objectives: (i) Design interventions to change consumer behaviour towards increased aquaculture consumption and determine the psychological pathway leading to the change in behaviour; (ii) Explore sensorial barriers to the acceptability of novel seafood products from IMTA.

Ongoing work: (i) Focus groups with both seafood and non-seafood consumers to explore views on IMTA and its products; (ii) Design and development of the consumer intervention (i.e. development of the intervention logic model, consumer questionnaire, experimental measures, research protocol, etc.); (iii) Development of consumer experiment to explore sensorial barriers to the acceptability of seafood.

Team: Naomi Kang n.kang2@newcastle.ac.uk; Dr Lucia Rehackova (former team member); Dr Luca Panzone luca.panzone@newcastle.ac.uk  


WP.4 Valuation of the ecosystem services provided by IMTA (lead by UoG; Dr Pamela Katic P.G.Katic@greenwich.ac.uk)

Scientific objectives: (i) Develop a bioeconomic model for IMTA to value diversification and nutrient removal; (ii) Estimate the value of extractive species within IMTA systems for increasing societal acceptability.

Ongoing work: Literature review; Development of a framework to operationalise resilience management from a bioeconomic model comparing aquaculture systems (i.e. IMTA vs. monoculture) and their effects on resilience metrics; Development of a conceptual and methodological framework on socio-cultural valuation of aquaculture ecosystem services.

Team: Dr Andrea Gatto A.Gatto@greenwich.ac.uk; Dr Alan MacDonald alan.macdonald@sams.ac.uk; Dr Pamela Katic P.G.Katic@greenwich.ac.uk 


WP.5 Political economy analysis of aquaculture diversification (co-lead by UoG and SAMS; Dr Pamela Katic P.G.Katic@greenwich.ac.uk and Dr Sofia Franco sofia.franco@sams.ac.uk)

Scientific objectives: (i) Implement a political economy analysis of the aquaculture sector in the UK to understand the underlying factors that facilitate/impede aquaculture diversification.

Ongoing work: Initial literature review and preparation of ethics submission.

Team: Dr Andrea Gatto A.Gatto@greenwich.ac.uk; Dr Pamela Katic P.G.Katic@greenwich.ac.uk; Dr Sofia Franco sofia.franco@sams.ac.uk


Results, outputs and knowledge exchange

Diverseafood started in March 2019 and our research is currently ongoing, with most results expected towards the end of 2020. Publications, conference presentations and other outputs will be shared online as they become available, so please keep an eye on this space or email the project team if you are interested in specific work package results. Some early outputs are listed below:

MacdDonald et al. 2020. It's all FYNE: How a novel management tool for the salmon aquaculture industry brings together nutrition and environment. Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland Annual General Meeting, 6-9 Oct 2020, virtual conference Video and Salmon aquaculture - bringing together nutrition and environment

St Clair et al. 2020. Circular Economy and Resilience of Seafood Business Models. In Sustainable and Responsible Business. British Academy of Management. 2-4 Sep 2020, virtual conference

MacDonald et al. 2020 Creation of a novel tool for the aquaculture industry to deliver healthy and sustainable seafood. Aquaculture Europe, 12-15 April 2020, Cork (Ireland) A novel tool for aquaculture 2021

Sharmina M et al. 2019. Diverseafood’s submission to the Defra consultation. The National Food Strategy.

Katic PG et al. 2019. Development of a bioeconomic model to value ecosystem services in IMTA systems. Poster. Aquaculture Europe 2019. 7-10 October 2019, Berlin (Germany). Diverseafood poster

Throughout the project’s lifetime, Diverseafood will be represented in various conferences, meetings and workshops, with members of the project team available to discuss the project with stakeholders and present Diverseafood’s vision and progress to date. If you are attending any of the events below, which the team will take part in, and would like to discuss opportunities for collaboration, we would be keen to hear from you.

December 9th, 2019 (Sines, Portugal) - AQUAPOLLIS+ public event: Franco SC. Invited talk on ‘Challenges to the diversification of aquaculture’ and follow-up panel public debate on ‘Aquaculture of invertebrates and challenges to diversification: barriers and opportunities’ (in Portuguese).

October 15th, 2019 (London, UK) - Seafood 2040 Aquaculture Leadership Group meeting: Franco SC. Invited talk on ‘Towards improved communication in aquaculture: exploring perceptions and attitudes to aquaculture’.

September 4th, 2019 (Edinburgh, UK) - GFS Food Systems Annual stakeholder event: Franco SC et al. Chairing of workshop on ‘Changing diets in changing times’ with a sub-session on ‘Seafood-rich diets: barriers and opportunities’.

May 23rd – 25th, 2019 (Bergen, Norway) - Bergen Marine Resilience Workshop 2019: Katic PK.

In 2020, the Diverseafood team plans to be present at Aquaculture Europe 2020, MASTS 2020, Seafish Aquaculture Common Issues Group meeting, British Academy of Management 2020 conference, Psychology Society 2020 conference, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economics 2020 conference. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you wish to arrange to meet in parallel with any of these events.


Interested in working with us? Get in touch.