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Grand Solutions 2023: Grant for circular economy in zander farming

Senior researcher Hanne Marie Nielsen from Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics (QGG) and the industry partner AquaPri A/S, a fish farming company, have received a 4-year Grand Solutions grant from the Innovation Fund for the project SELRAS, which aims to improve the production of farmed zander.

Photo: AquaPri A/S

Zander is a delicacy, and its white and tender meat is sold worldwide to gourmet and sushi restaurants. Demand is increasing, but currently the potential for zander production is not commensurate with the costs. There is room for improvement, so to speak.

The technological development within land-based breeding facilities is so far advanced that some facilities recirculate close to 100% of the water. But for zander, there is still an opportunity to increase production and make farming more efficient. However, among other things, it requires selective breeding to get zander adapted to the recirculated plants. For example, selection has led to a 15% increase in production for salmon, and the same is expected to be achieved for zander.

By combining traditional breeding, DNA information and new methods for recording characteristics, the project will optimize the production of zander in recirculating facilities (called Recirculating Aquaculture System, or RAS).

Zander is typically a fish caught wild in lakes. However, due to overfishing in the lakes, there are several advantages to rearing zander in facilities on land. This requires an adaptation of the species to commercial breeding, as wild zander can be stressed by the conditions in a closed facility. This can lead to poor animal welfare for the fish, and therefore an adaptation of the species to recirculated plants is a necessity.

"Our project goal is to adapt zander to recirculated plants by using selective breeding," explains project leader, senior researcher Hanne Marie Nielsen from QGG. "The advantage of this method is that the genetic improvement is permanent, and we can reuse the tools with accumulative effects".

"By selecting the zanders that perform best in the recirculated plants, we can increase productivity, reduce costs and CO2 emissions per fish produced, and thereby deliver a more sustainable product to consumers. But we lack a large amount of information about the traits we want to select for, and we need to know how the fish, we are selecting, are genetically related, for the methods, we want to develop, to be effective. We also need to find out what the genetic relationship between traits like growth rate, feed efficiency, fat deposition and fillet yield is, so that we can improve these traits at the same time. Equally, we need to find out how we maximize the genetic gain by optimizing the breeding plans with respect for an optimized utilization of the resources that are available," concludes Hanne Marie Nielsen.

The project is a collaboration between QGG, which is at the top of the world in research into genetics and genomic selection in both plants, animals and humans, and the industrial partner AquaPri A/S, which is a global leader in fish farming in recirculated plants.

AquaPri A/S, which is a partner in the project and has two recirculated facilities where they breed zander, are also hopeful:

"Farmed zander has become a hugely popular food fish throughout Europe, and we want to expand the supply of it so that we can maintain the ever-increasing demand that we are experiencing," says CEO Henning Priess, who is co-owner of AquaPri A/S and responsible for the company's sales, marketing and business development.

"In order to succeed in this, we must involve the best research in the field, so that we can increase growth and reduce production costs through genetic levers, while maintaining sustainability and fish welfare, which are key parameters for our company. We see unimaginable perspectives for our zander and overall, for fish in RAS systems with this project, so we are looking forward to this collaboration with QGG and expect to see tangible results in our productivity already within the project's term," he elaborates.

The project runs over a four-year period from 2023 – 2026.

Read the news item on the Innovations Fund website (in Danish).

Additional information

We strive to ensure that all our articles live up to the Danish universities' principles for good research communication (scroll down to find the English version on the web-site). Because of this the article will be supplemented with the following information:

Study type

Development of genomic selection tools for zander


Innovation Fund Denmark, Grand Solutions. 5,3 mill. DKK


AquaPri A/S

External commenting

CEO Henning Priess, AquaPri A/S has reviewed the article

Conflicts of interest

No conflicts of interest


Senior researcher Hanne Marie Nielsen, Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics