The aquaculture sector is flourishing, being the fastest growing form of food production in the world with a market value of $13.3 billion. In the next 25 to 30 years, the global population will rise to 10 billion people and as investors commit their interest to the sector, start-ups in seafood and aquaculture technology have raised $193 million in 2016.
Several exciting aquaculture producers have received huge investment funding this year to create cutting-edge technologies to solve some of the challenges facing sustainable aquaculture.
French insect producer Ynsect won a €20 million grant from the European Commission to build a new automated facility to produce premium insect protein, due to open in 2021. AquaByte, an aquaculture start-up that brings machine learning and computer vision technologies to improve fish farming efficiency, has raised $10 million in Series A Funding to double its team and expand in different countries.
The sector has seen unprecedented developments focused on digital innovation, land-based aquaculture and genetic technologies
Fundamental to aquaculture is understanding how fish grow and what factors influence fish growth from a health, feeding, and biomass perspective. The industry is shifting towards precision fish farming, enabled by technologies including machine-learning and computer vision.
Bryton Shang, Founder & CEO at Aquabyte, says: “We can promote the adoption of these technologies that give us a digital snapshot of how the fish is growing over time. Growing camera and sensor instrumentation at the farm will be important, so we can understand precisely how each fish grows, how many sea lice it has, how hungry it is, and what we should do to feed and keep the fish healthy.
“Over time, more and more of these innovations will be powered by software. For the industry to scale, we need to embrace the role of software, internet connectivity, and machine learning technologies to help the farmer better run the farm. This will require the joint efforts of farms, government agencies, institutions, researchers, and suppliers to work together to make sure that the right technologies are being developed for farmers.”
Land-based aquaculture operations or recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) systems offer fully traceable, healthy, natural fish without the use of antibiotics or chemicals.
Ohad Maiman, CEO at Kingfish Zeeland believes that RAS systems are an important part of the aquaculture industry to supplement sustainable fisheries and traditional aquaculture.
“I find it helpful to look at RAS through the lens of greenhouse technology in agriculture, as it points out the unique strengths and competitive advantages of RAS, primarily the ability to produce at market premium products that would otherwise need to be imported from far away.
“In many ways operating a RAS system is as complex and demanding as operating a submarine or a spaceship – essentially maintaining an artificial living environment 24/7 that is reliant on critics life support systems. With that in mind we find it important to invest in a robust and reliable system, and make sure our onsite production personnel is there around the clock and well trained to resolve any required troubleshooting.”
Innovation is emerging in breeding and genome editing aquaculture for disease resistance welfare, reproduction and growth efficiency. Benchmark has been using genomic methods extensively in Atlantic salmon, where resistance to major pathogens is now routinely improved using genomic selection through high density genotyping and marker-assisted selection on major genes or QTL’s.
Øistein Thorsen, Director at FAI Farms at Benchmark Holdings, explains: “We need to support farmers to determine the most effective use of their resources and to manage their farms and care for their stocks – not only as a means to create revenue, but as a means to create a resilient, functioning ecosystem, that also brings environmental benefit, and contributes positively to society.”
With increasing awareness among consumers and commitment amongst producers and regulators to address environmental and animal welfare concerns, Thorsen adds: “This has resulted in more stringent regulations, enhanced monitoring and reporting practices and importantly in the development of new technologies that enable industry growth while minimising the environmental impact.”
More future developments and new innovative solutions are on the horizon for aquaculture with AquaBounty producing the first genetically modified salmon approved for human consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration and could be served in restaurants in 2020. EU-backed research is also investigating jellyfish as a potential food source for humans as it offers a range of nutritional health benefits.
At the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit in Amsterdam, 1-2 October leading experts will discuss investment and innovation for the future of sustainable aquaculture. Panel sessions include:
- Enhancing efficiency, quality, safety and sustainability in aquaculture through digital applications and alternative feeds with insights from Aqua-Spark, AquaByte, Salmon Group, Benchmark Holdings, AquaBounty Technologies and InnovaFeed.
- Overcoming challenges to technology adoption in sustainable aquaculture production with case studies from BioMar and Kingfish Zeeland.
- Thumbnail credit: Cermaq