A SCOTTISH aquaculture programme which funds university students and sustainability projects has secured a major funding boost from the Scottish Government. 

The Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) has had its funding continued for research and development (R&D), despite fears the programme was being slimmed down last year, as it secured £1.5 million in funding.

SAIC supports projects that research the health and welfare of farmed fish as they connect academics with the public sector to promote positive and sustainable farming practices in the industry.

READ MORE: Douglas Ross defends Rishi Sunak's comments on 'extremist' nationalism

Since it was formed, the SAIC has supported more than 100 projects and has created research valued at around £70m for the fish farming sector.

The £1.5m package is made up of £500,000 from the Scottish Government’s Marine Fund Scotland and £1m of transitional funding from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC).

Securing the funding will allow SAIC to continue to build on its decade's worth of research and development which focuses on the environmental impact of fish farming as well as health or welfare issues that may arise from the practice.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, said SAIC has a bright future in the aquaculture industry and praised the project's positive impact.

She said: “SAIC is one of Scotland’s success stories, having played a significant role in supporting innovation and development in aquaculture.

“We are now supporting SAIC to move to a refreshed and updated role that will ensure it and Scottish aquaculture have a bright future. The need to make aquaculture sustainable and the rewards for doing so have never been greater nor more urgent.

“The funding we are making available from Marine Fund Scotland will enable SAIC to sustain work and fund new projects to support the sustainability of our valuable aquaculture sector.

“Our Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture recognised the importance of innovation, and this investment is a demonstration of our commitment to the sector and its future.”

Alongside the funding SAIC has announced it will also be launching a new funding call for businesses and higher education institutes for projects that focus specifically on finfish health and welfare.

READ MORE: Extremism expert debunks Rishi Sunak attack on 'Scottish nationalists'

Finfish is a term used to separate fish from other marine animals like shellfish, crayfish, and jellyfish, and the funding is for preventive measures and focuses on emerging harmful issues affecting fish.

David Gregory, chair of SAIC, said the project has established itself in the Scottish fish farming industry and has delivered many positive outcomes in the last decade, something he is happy is containing thanks to the new funding.

He said: “The funding provided by the Scottish Government and SFC will allow SAIC’s vital work to continue. The model of combining funding from the sector and government, which has underpinned our work over the past decade, is now very well established and has delivered a broad range of positive outcomes in aquaculture.

“SAIC’s more concentrated remit is aligned to the sector’s priorities, and we look forward to fostering greater collaboration on R&D projects to tackle the most pressing health and welfare challenges faced by the fish farming community.”

The Scottish Government was forced to look for alternative funding for SAIC at the end of last year as the programme's funding application was rejected by the SFC, who invest £2 billion a year into 19 Scottish universities and 24 colleges.

The SFC also funds seven Scottish innovation centres as their work is interlinked with academia, which is now providing SAIC with continued funding.

READ MORE: SNP MSP: Scottish independence 'should not be end of union with UK'

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, has also welcomed the funding as he says the Scottish Government plays an important part in growing a sustainable “blue economy”.

He said: “Scotland’s salmon sector welcomes SAIC’s sharpened focus on research and development in fish health and welfare. This is a top priority for our members and will help to drive the sustainable growth of salmon as the UK’s number one food export.

“It is important that the Scottish Government continues to fund SAIC and play its part in supporting the Scottish salmon farming sector to operate in the most sustainable way possible.

“As the government’s own aquaculture vision made clear, the blue economy can increase food security at home and feed the growing global population.”