Breakthrough technologies in aquaculture
The world's wild fish stocks are being depleted at an ever-increasing rate and aquaculture is now regarded as the only way to provide the world with enough seafood. However, today’s aquaculture faces serious challenges, such as only a few improved species, labor intensity, environmental pollution, farmed fish diseases and escapes, vulnerability to climate changes and a lack of traceability of products.
To meet them, aquaculture needs breakthrough technologies. Genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, recycling aquaculture systems (RAS), are those technological areas that, in our opinion, will make the greatest contribution to the sustainable and profitable development of aquaculture.
Here are a few reasons why.
Alternative sources for fish feed production
According to expert estimates, the main limiting factor in the development of aquaculture is a lack of inexpensive, efficient, environmentally friendly feed. In turn, the main limiting factor in the development of aquaculture feed production is the shortage, high cost, low environmental friendliness of traditional raw materials – fishmeal and fish oil.
Both ingredients are mainly produced from wild-caught fish, a raw material that is becoming less and less available: fishmeal and fish oil supplies are growing scarce, and their prices are rising.
What is more, reliance on small, wild-caught fish threatens commercial fisheries since in the wild, fish for commercial markets such as cod, salmon, tuna, eat these smaller, oily “forage fish”, for example sardines and anchovies.
These small fish also sustain seabirds and marine mammals such as whales, seals and dolphins. If these fish at the center of the ocean food chain disappears, so will the life that depends on it.
The industry has made tremendous strides to greatly increase the productivity of fishmeal and oil, but if it is to expand, most scientists agree that these ingredients must be phased out of fish feed and replaced with alternative protein sources.
Currently, the world's leading aquabiotechnology companies are developing innovative technologies for the production of fish feed based on alternative protein sources from insects, algae, bacteria, krill, etc.
The list of innovative solutions in this area is impressive. Some of them have already become operating production facilities, while others are still at the initial stage of implementation. However, this does not prevent them from being interesting and attracting multi-million investments.
1 Robotics for labor-intensive work
Aquaculture production is a complex process. Many operations, including feeding, cleaning ponds and nets, monitoring fish behavior and removing diseased fish, are time-consuming and costly, which can be difficult without the use of machines.
Therefore, the use of robots has great potential in aquaculture.
For example, automated underwater robots have already been used to inspect and clean fish hatcheries in the salmon industry, reducing manual operations.
In addition, robots have also been used to monitor fish health and the condition of fences to prevent farmed fish from escaping.
Robots can make aquaculture more profitable by being able to work continuously without interruption in poor environmental conditions and without the need for human assistance. Fish behavior can be tracked in real time. Therefore, many research institutes and companies continue to develop various types of aquaculture robots.
2 Unmanned aerial vehicles for data collection
Drones can perform many different operations both above and below water in the aquaculture industry. They are capable of monitoring fish farms on land and at sea, especially offshore sites in mariculture.
In addition, drones can collect various types of data that is difficult for people to get. For example, Saildrone collected data on farms, analyzed fish stocks and monitored the state of the environment.
Many research institutes and companies develop and manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles for aquaculture and their efforts will only increase. The market for drones in agriculture is estimated at $5.19 billion by 2025.
3 Artificial intelligence
Robots, drones and sensors provide fast, real-time data collection. However, it is still very difficult to make fast and accurate decisions due to the large amount of data collected.
Currently, several aquaculture research institutes and start-ups are studying and applying artificial intelligence (AI) to make better and faster decisions.
Aquaculture production can be rapidly increased in a short period thanks to AI making aquaculture less labor intensive.
Could genetic modification help?
Genetic engineering is a rapidly developing technological area in aquaculture.
The gene-editing procedures make it possible to accelerate the growth of farmed fish and increase resistance to adverse environmental conditions and diseases.
For example, Canadian scientists introduced the flounder antifreeze protein gene into the Atlantic salmon genome. As a result the resistance of salmon to low temperatures increased.
However, experiments on the genetic transformation of fish have revealed not only advantages, but also destabilizing effects.
There is evidence of an adverse effect of gene modifications on the general condition, physiological and biochemical parameters, as well as on the reproductive system of fish.
To obtain approval for the sale of genetically modified fish products is also a great challenge.
For example, in 2021, genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon finally entered the US market—26 years after the company behind the fish, AquaBounty, first applied for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The salmon have an extra gene—taken from the genome of another type of salmon—that makes them grow much bigger than they otherwise would.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the role of genetic engineering in aquaculture will be steadily growing in the near future, given its promising prospects and ongoing large-scale research.
Recycling aquaculture systems
Land-based controlled fish farming using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) is rapidly gaining popularity around the world due to a number of significant advantages over traditional aquaculture.
RAS farms could be located closer to where consumers are, lowering the costs of transportation.
They greatly reduce the risk of escapes or disease transmission to wild fish population by taking farmed fish out of the natural habitat entirely.
The normal production process does not use antibiotics or drugs, so the fish produced in land-based, enclosed and controlled conditions is healthier.
The water movement in the pools allows producers to train fish, which in some species form a more natural composition of fats and tissues.
Land-based RAS provides a continuous harvest all year round and the fish grow to marketable weight faster compared to other aquaculture methods.
Despite some disadvantages of RAS, primarily their higher energy consumption and longer payback period compared to fish farming in ponds and sea cages, the need to move to land-based controlled farming is becoming more apparent.
Therefore, new technologies in the production of RAS will be most in demand.
The need for breakthrough innovative technologies for aquaculture is obvious. In turn, it requires keeping an eye out on the latest technological developments in aquaculture and jointly assessing their potential for implementation.
SEAFOOD EXPO EURASIA is a new international seafood event, where fish farming communities from around the world will have an opportunity to discuss most sophisticated and promising technologies to meet global challenges and provide the sustainable and profitable development of aquaculture.