“We cannot just look at coming up with new drugs to control diseases. We need to look at strategies to prevent diseases,” explains Dr. Sophie St-Hilaire, associate professor of Health Management at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, and Canada Research Chair in Integrated Health Research for Sustainable Aquaculture.
“We need to consider the environmental sustainability of aquaculture systems if we want to be able to farm these systems long term. We also have to assess the short and long term cost benefit of an intensive aquaculture system that is prone to infectious disease outbreaks and treatments."
Dr. St-Hilaire’s research into disease prevention, sustainability, and public health in aquaculture settings complements the expertise of the AVC’s Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology (CVER) and Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (CAHS), both of which welcome her as a member. Her research has taken her to Chile, the United Kingdom, and the British Columbia coast.
“And while I’ll continue to work on projects in these areas, I’d like to focus some of my attention closer to my new home in Atlantic Canada,” says Dr. St-Hilaire. “Specifically, I’d like to work with shellfish farmers in the waters of Prince Edward Island, and with trout and salmon farmers across the Atlantic provinces.”
Besides disease prevention, Dr. St-Hilaire also works on other sustainability issues facing aquaculture systems such as the use of fishmeal in salmonid commercial feed and waste management. The recycling of waste is a hot topic within aquaculture, and is at the heart of St-Hilaire’s research.
“Salmon farms are looking for new ways to handle waste, and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture using filter-feeders, could be part of the solution,” says St-Hilaire. This system may also be useful at reducing pathogens, a question she is hoping to answer with SalmonChile, using field data from Chilean salt water aquaculture farms.
"As an epidemiologist I work on many different problems. The breadth of my research projects enables me to collaborate with many different types of researchers, from microbiologists to agricultural engineers. The ultimate goal of my research is to improve aquaculture systems and make them more economically and environmentally sustainable.
“I’m excited to be back at the AVC,” says Dr. St-Hilaire. “This is where I received my DVM. I’m now working on research alongside professors who were my teachers. That’s really gratifying.”