The introduction of a new technology that will dramatically cut the transfer of fish disease is the result of leading lights from British industry pulling together.
BSafe – short for 'bacteria safe' – began life in the mind of avid angler Derek Willan, who believes that all anglers should be doing their bit to safeguard fish health in the UK.
Derek explained: "Virus outbreaks were getting all the press, but research revealed that the bigger killers were a relatively small group of bacteria which the Environment Agency confirmed were present in the majority of fish mortalities they attended in 2013. “It has been proven under laboratory conditions that disease can be transferred on nets to fish, and I feel, as anglers, we have a duty of care to look into any avenue that can help ensure healthier fish stocks. We need to be conservationists as well as anglers."
Derek was convinced that the answer lay in producing nets with anti-bacterial properties, and he set about finding out if it could be done. The result was a marriage between the UK’s leading supplier of masterbatch technology in Silvergate Plastics, and Biomaster, the Queen’s-Award-winning market leader in permanent antimicrobial additives. Their brief was to develop an in-built solution at molecular level, which enhances the performance of filaments and plastics, from which nets are ultimately made. Derek was able to bring their expertise together to begin work on a unique bacterial-killing material. This led to the birth of Aquatech Techologies – the owners of the BSafe brand – and the breakthrough came when it became clear that by utilising complex chemistry, it was possible to create an active and ever-lasting bacterial killing layer to the surface of polymeric material.
“This was really exciting because it looked as if it would be feasible to engineer the technology into the monofilament used to make the yarn, from which the nets used in fishing and other aquaculture equipment are created,” explained Derek. “What's more, the technology continually works at the material surface for the life of the product, and is effective when wet - exactly the conditions which are thought to make the transfer of disease possible."
The theory sounded great... but it had to be tested. Step forward government executive agency CEFAS, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. CEFAS had seen first-hand the problems caused in fisheries by bacterial diseases, and it bought into the idea straightaway, working closely with the BSafe team to test samples against the five key bacterial pathogens.
Working on the project for CEFAS was Jason Weeks, who is now Professor of Environmental Risk Analysis at the University of Cranfield: "The results were stunning and very exciting for everyone involved; a more than 99% kill rate of the five key bacterial pathogens within 24 hours... and proof that the BSafe technology was at work when wet or dry."
Leading UK fisheries consultant Dr Bruno Broughton commented: “Fish are the vital life-blood for the owners and managers of fisheries, and maintaining good fish health is an essential requirement of successful fisheries management. This welcome move will lead to better, fish-safe nets and other products which will raise the bar for fish health standards. Initial inquiries have stimulated an extremely positive response from fishery owners, and it merits widespread adoption.”
The introduction has also been greeted by the Angling Trust, with chairman Mark Lloyd saying: “The Angling Trust takes fish health and welfare very seriously and any product that can help protect fish from bacterial infection is very welcome. If the manufacturer’s claims are correct, then these nets could make a big contribution to stopping the spread of disease and helping to protect the sport that we all love.”
Aquatech Technologies director Andrew Jackson-Brown added: “From our initial idea we have always intended to make the exciting benefits of BSafe available to all manufacturers of nets, slings, mats and potentially any products that come into contact with infected fish. “ We see the launch of BSafe as a huge step forward in reducing the spread of harmful bacterial diseases and hope that all anglers and manufacturers alike join with us to help preserve and promote healthier fish stocks.” A spokesman for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) commented: “It’s great to see the best in British industry pulling together like this to create an exciting new technology with so much potential in international markets.”