Farmed fish could be crucial to achieving a world without hunger. Although aquaculture can have a large environmental footprint, Norwegian technology makes it possible to produce fish sustainably and with less environmental impact.
The global population is growing rapidly. Today there are over 7 billion people on earth, and the UN forecasts that the population can reach 11 billion as early as 2050. Sustainable, large-scale production of nutritious food will be required to make sure that everyone is adequately fed.
Fish and other seafood are some of the most important sources of animal protein, fats and Omega-3 fatty acids – all of which are vital nutrients. Moreover, aquaculture also has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than many types of meat production.
There are, however, a number of problems associated with intensive, large-scale production of fish. Faeces and spilled feed, which may contain nitrogen and phosphorus, can pollute the water column and local environment. Moreover, controlling sea lice without damaging fish or the surrounding ecosystem has been a longstanding challenge.
Meanwhile, as the industry has grown, procuring enough nutritious fish feed has become an issue. Production of essential marine ingredients such as fish meal and fish oil has decreased by half during the past decade.
Emerging technology is helping to solve these problems, and Norway is leading the way. With its long, biologically diverse coastline and centuries-long fishing traditions, Norway has amassed extensive expertise in aquaculture and fisheries which the country is applying in technology development.
Farmed fish is an excellent source of animal protein and will be needed to feed the growing population.
Environment-friendly solutions for combating parasites
Sea lice are one of the most pressing challenges facing the aquaculture industry. These parasites release their eggs into the water. The eggs develop into larvae that attach themselves to fish, retarding their growth, disrupting their salt balance and making them vulnerable to disease and predation. Until now, drugs and chemicals have been the predominant method of controlling sea lice. Sea lice, however, have begun to acquire resistance to delousing agents.
Norwegian companies such as Optimar are making strides in developing drug-free, environmentally sound treatment for this damaging parasite. Sea lice, unlike salmon, do not tolerate sudden changes in temperature. The Optilice solution from Optimar transports the salmon through a system with slightly heated or chilled seawater or fresh water, thereby removing up to 98 per cent of the lice without harming the fish or the environment. Treatment takes about a minute, after which the fish are returned to a clean cage.
The Thermolicer system from Steinsvik uses the same principle, pumping fish through a processing loop for 25 to 30 seconds. The Thermolicer briefly bathes the fish in lukewarm seawater, which causes the lice to die and fall off the fish. Afterwards, the lice are collected and destroyed.
Optilice removes sea lice using only temperature-controlled water.
Innovative prevention of sea lice
The Seafarm PulseGuard system creates an electric fence, using electrical pulses to inactivate sea lice before they attach to the fish. This stops infestation within the cage and further spread to the surrounding environment – without any damage to the fish. The system effectively reduces sea lice infestation and biofouling of cages by up to 90 per cent.
Stingray Marine Solutions, meanwhile, uses lasers to shoot down sea lice. The company’s advanced system uses AI technology to scan each individual fish for parasites and then destroys the lice one by one with a laser. Because the method does not involve handling or moving the fish, it can be used to remove and control sea lice on a continuous and preventive basis.
Another preventive method is to discover sea lice at an early stage. This calls for effective monitoring of fish and counting of sea lice. Fishency Innovation has developed a high-tech alternative to manual counting. The company’s SmartFunnel combines hardware with advanced machine learning and is installed underwater in the cages. As the fish swim through the funnel, a high-resolution, 360-degree image is taken by a camera. The system analyses the data and quickly identifies fish with traces of sea lice on their body. It can also be used to monitor other fish welfare parameters.
Blue Lice takes yet another approach by preventing sea lice from entering the cage in the first place. Its system acts like a mosquito trap, luring in sea lice through a combination of attractors and then containing them. The system takes advantage of the sea lice’s instincts, making the trap more attractive than the salmon.
Stingray’s solution zaps sea lice with a laser.
Revolutionising fish feed
Worries about decreasing availability of marine ingredients for fish feed have long loomed over fish farmers. High-quality feed that meets the nutritional demands of fish, particularly in the larval stage, is essential for healthful, tasty fish. Rotifera, or wheel animals, and Artemia nauplii, or brine shrimp, are the most common live feed organisms used in aquaculture in Europe today. Substantial amounts of soy are imported for use in dry fish feed, but this may be cultivated at the expense of local ecosystems. The aquaculture industry has to find methods of maintaining nutritional quality while sparing the environment.
Planktonic has developed an exciting alternative to the most common live feed. The company cryopreserves the marine crustacean Nauplii in large amounts, thawing and reviving them as live individuals right before use, thus ensuring optimal nutritional value. The product has been demonstrated to double the growth rate of fish larvae and reduce the live feed period by 25 to 30 per cent, meaning that more fish can be produced with fewer resources.
Sustainable offshore fish farms
Today most sea-based aquaculture facilities are located in fjords or along the coastline. Waste feed, faeces, fish escapes and high concentrations of parasites have negative impacts on both the local environment and wild fish.
SalMar has constructed the world’s largest offshore fish farm, Ocean Farm 1, and installed it off the coast of Norway. The open ocean offers more space for production fish, deeper waters and stronger currents. Ocean currents are particularly effective for reducing the concentration of parasites and pollution that builds up in calmer coastal waters. Greater distance to the shore also minimises interactions with wild fish and problems such as interbreeding.
Ocean Farm 1 is the world’s largest offshore fish farm.