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Mapping the Future of Halibut Culture

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Learn more about...

> DNA fingerprinting
> Broodstocks

Tanks for Haddock Broodstock

Tanks for Haddock Broodstock
NRC's Marine Research Station at Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia has a wide variety of specialized equipment for aquaculture research. Here haddock broodstock are housed in large tanks, covered to help control the tank environment. Seawater is pumped 24-hours-a-day to supply this and other research projects, and the water is heated, filtered, or cooled as required. The haddock broodstock are used as a source for fertilized eggs. These are collected and incubated to produce larval haddock as part of a research program to identify best-practices for haddock aquaculture.


The National Research Council of Canada Institute for Marine Biosciences, NRC-IMB, is an internationally recognized leader in Marine Biosciences and Biotechnology research. It is among the main anchors for life sciences research in Atlantic Canada.

Questions We're working to Answer

At the Institute for Marine Biosciences, our researchers specialize in studying aquaculture, natural toxins and genomics. They investigate ways to improve farming practices of marine food, such as fish and seaweed. These scientists want to make sure the resources that we take and use from the sea are sustainable. Our researchers also study toxins, and try to identify different diseases and poisons in the ocean.

Through genomic research, our scientists try and learn things from marine creatures that might have useful applications for humans. By focusing on all these things, our researchers hope to make the seafood that we eat safer, healthier and sustainable. One of the many questions we're working to answer is how can we improve the productivity of Atlantic halibut?

Mapping the Future of Halibut Culture

Genetic mapping may be the key to improving the productivity of Atlantic halibut, a promising species for diversification of the salmon culture industry in Atlantic Canada. By using detailed genetic information from the halibut and by breeding selected individuals, significant improvements in their production can be made. This process of selection of domestic strains has been used in agriculture for decades, but has not been widely used in commercial fish culture.

Genetic research of Atlantic halibut is a collaborative effort between the National Research Council Institute of Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB) , Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and industry partner, Scotian Halibut Limited. The researchers are entering the third phase of the genetics project. The initial phases allowed them to identify the parentage of the first generation of fish (pedigree analysis) being used for breeding purposes. These first generation halibut, offspring from adults caught in the wild, were kept communally at separate hatcheries.

The researchers are now focussing on the identification of locations on the genetic map that contribute to improved growth and disease resistance. Funding is provided from a Genome Canada/Genome Spain project called Pleurogene.

DNA fingerprinting proves useful

Using genetic markers called microsatellites, researchers have determined the parentage of 98% of the first generation of fish held at the DFO Biological Station and in industry facilities. Microsatellites are regions of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid which is the carrier of genetic information) that are highly variable among individuals in a population but are inherited by offspring from their parents. This technique is commonly referred to as "DNA fingerprinting".

Microsatellite markers are also essential tools for the development of genetic maps and the identification of Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL), areas on the map linked to desirable traits such as good growth, disease resistance and so on. The researchers will continue the study to further identify markers linked to QTL to select fish with desirable traits at an early age and thus increase the efficiency of the broodstock selection program.

Atlantic halibut are extremely large, sometimes reaching over two metres in length, and have a relatively late age of maturity of five to seven years before they are capable of producing offspring. Therefore, they are costly to keep in captivity, unlike some other cultured fish, such as salmon where there may be hundreds of broodstock kept for spawning purposes. Once a desirable halibut broodstock is achieved it could provide quality offspring for many years.

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