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Virtual Scenarios Forecast Bright Irish Future

by Ellen Hardy
02 October 2008, at 1:00am

IRELAND - New 'real time' software, which allows fish farmers to run virtual scenarios and forecast results, promises to secure the future of Irish shellfish farmers.

For the past two years, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, has been engaged with MarCon Computations International as well as other Irish and International project partners, in the development of a near real time software application, tailored specifically for Shellfish growers around the Irish coast, which will enable them to optimise their operations and production in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner.

Part-funded by the EU under the FIFG 2000-2006 National Development Plan, the Understanding Irish Shellfish Culture Environments, or UISCE project, involves the development of a desktop computer system, allowing shellfish farmers to run virtual aquaculture scenarios without incurring any costs, and then make decisions from these results as to how to effectively and efficiently manage the development of their farms. Wexford Harbour, Dungarvan Harbour and Killary Harbour were the bays selected for the first phase of this project.


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"By allowing the optimization of husbandry techniques such as this, the software encourages farmers and communities to work together"
Project Co-ordinator, Benen Dallaghan

This innovative piece of new software will assist fish farmers to identify the best locations for mussel and oyster farms around the Irish coast. For example, the new software will allow farmers to quickly and accurately identify the carrying capacity of their bay, and what impact changes to the density of their farming stock would have on production levels. Indeed, this was one of the main drivers of the project, with anecdotal evidence of sub-optimal growth for mussels in Killary Harbour suggesting that possible over-stocking of some sites in the bay may have been leading to poor growth rates.

The new software has been adapted to each of the three trial bays, and the results of the pilot project were presented and discussed at a workshop held in Westport on 25th September 2008.

Speaking at the workshop, Project Co-ordinator, Benen Dallaghan explained the virtues of the new software. “By using near real time current conditions, the software will allow a farmer to quickly see what effect on his productivity would be expected if he were to make stocking density changes, for example, or to reposition one or all of his mussel lines, or introduce more mussel lines in the vicinity of the existing farm. By allowing the optimization of husbandry techniques such as this, the software encourages farmers and communities to work together.

“What is also key to the success of the project is the extensive sampling programme involved, which underpins the software. This project data, coupled with on-site shellfish growth experiments were the foundation stone of the project,” added Mr. Dallaghan.

Water quality considerations are also addressed by the software, which can help identify sources and causes of poor water quality is the main area. This decision support tool is capable of running various scenarios in order to build a picture of what is really going on in the water at structure, site and bay scales. For example, a hypothetical discharge of 50,000 litres of sewage into Killary Harbour can be monitored to see where the discharge will go and to identify aquaculture sites most vulnerable to pollution over a given number of tidal exchanges.

The UISCE project team is made up of a group of national and international experts, all offering different skill sets and experience. Project partners include BIM; MarCon Computations International; Longline Environmental; Blue Hill Hydraulics Incorporated; Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Pemaquid Mussel Farms; National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration; Aqua-Fact International Services; Compass Infomatics; Martin Ryan Institute and National University of Ireland, Galway.

Ellen Hardy