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Irish to boost freshwater farming efficiency

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An innovative project that aims to increase Irish aquaculture output to 45,000 tonnes per annum by 2020 has been launched this week.

Called Ecoaqua, it is being led by NUI Galway and Athlone Institute of Technology and will focus on improving production efficiency in freshwater sites. It has received €348,781 in funding under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), in a bid to optimise innovative technologies and processes developed through the Morefish project.

An organic perch farm in Co Sligo run by Keywater Fisheries Ltd and Bord Iascaigh Mhara

© Ecoaqua

Led by Dr Eoghan Clifford from NUI Galway and Professor Neil Rowan from Athlone Institute of Technology, with support from Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s technical aquaculture team, Ecoaqua will address critically important needs identified by industry and aquaculture stakeholders including:

  • Analysing the environmental and energy performance of three freshwater aquaculture sites by extensive sampling and remote online monitoring of water parameters.
  • Facilitating the re-use of the treated water, thereby reducing both the volumes of extracted and discharged waters.
  • Enabling the industry to meet stringent environmental regulation while increasing production in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.
  • Piloting technological innovations with industry to ensure the research is easily and rapidly transferrable to the aquaculture sector.
  • Ensuring technological innovations and research results can be leveraged to enable the sustainable growth of this high-potential sector.
  • Enable the industry to leverage the scientific outputs from the project to communicate with government, policymakers and regulators and the public.

Industry involvement

Sites involved include Marine Harvest (Lough Altan), a traditional-flow smolt production site with drum filters and polymerised belt filter for treatment of effluent water; Marine Harvest (Pettigo), a traditional flow-through smolt production site with drum filters for treatment of effluent; Keywater’s organic perch RAS; and IDAS, a group of four pond-based flow-through farms with no water treatment on the effluent water.

Full scale demonstration of a new aeration technology for fish farms

© Ecoaqua

“Aquaculture is recognised to have the potential to address food security concerns in many countries and offer significant economic benefits,” explains Dr Clifford. “Ireland currently ranks as fifth in value and seventh in volume [in the EU] in terms of high value fish species, with exports supporting approximately 2,000 jobs. However, the sector in Ireland has remained relatively stagnant and has significant potential to grow, develop export markets and create employment in rural areas.”

Professor Neil Rowan adds: “Ecoaqua will model and profile the global performance (focusing on algal, microbial and energy) of pilot freshwater aquaculture farms, which will ensure that high potential interventions are easily transferable to the industry sector, ensuring the intensive sustainability and viability of this industry.”

Alan Kennedy, Ecoaqua project manager at NUI Galway, says: “This timely project will improve the water quality of freshwater farms through the incorporation of water treatment technologies and energy reduction interventions into existing flow-through farms that will also enable seamless transitions to next-generation production formats.”