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When will aquaculture embrace “the digital flood”?

12 February 2020, at 6:11pm

“The digital flood has lifted other agtech sectors but it hasn’t taken the aquaculture sector by storm just yet… what do you think is the key element, what will it take and what’s the main focus?”

Participants in the final panel discussion at the 2020 Intrafish Media Seafood Investment Forum
Participants in the final panel discussion at the 2020 Intrafish Media Seafood Investment Forum

So asked journalist Demi Korban to a panel of leading aquaculture investors and innovators as part of the Intrafish Media Seafood Investor Forum that took place today.

“Automation, big data, AI, machine-learning in aquaculture are all big trends and I think that they’re all trends… and now is the time for those trends to actually take off,” argued Bryton Shang, CEO of Aquabyte.

It was a timely question to ask Shang, who was able to back up his assertion by pointing to the clearance that was given last week for two farmers in Norway to use Aquabyte technology to automatically count sea lice rather than rely on time-consuming and labour-intensive weekly manual counts.

“So for an authority to say that a big data/AI method is accepted in the industry is really setting a precedent for other AI technologies to be accepted in aquaculture and I think that’s a really positive side for other technologies to come in and help to develop the industry,” Shang reflected.

“I think the other thing is… if this data can be synergistic with other companies out there – data from the farm that useful for feed development, for the fish health side, then that’s when you can see powerful alliances between data and existing companies,” he added.

Nolan Paul from Yamaha Motor Ventures emphasised the need for broader platforms and the need to interpret big data. In other words more user friendly and easier to grasp.

“If you look at the agriculture side it’s still early days as well but probably 5-10 years ahead of the aquaculture space. If you look at the timelines there are a lot of companies that came out that probably were solving one thing… I think that when you see broader platforms that’s when you’ll see easier enterprise adoption,” he said.

“And I think the second thing is that the folks who will be the most successful are those that don’t just talk about data because data in and of itself really doesn’t mean anything, it’s hard for people to grasp what it is, it’s actually what is that data represents and is it solving a specific problem. The companies that are able to speak about it in those terms will be the ones that are able to articulate their value proposition better.”

Paul’s views were echoed by Joost Matthijssen, from Nutreco, who said: “[the digital flood] is definitely coming but… [we must] find technology that really works and drives better farm returns. Just data is not enough, the challenges are very different for the different systems and the different farming species, so I don’t think there’s a single answer to that solution, but I do some more conversion and some more tech coming into this space from other sectors. I think that’s encouraging.”

Sustainability

Matts Johansen CEO of Aker Biomarine emphasised the need to have tools to help the sector meet ever-more stringent sustainability regulations: “I think a key area is in sustainability. We haven’t touched on that now but the taxonomy that’s coming in in Europe I think is going to be very demanding for the whole seafood industry, both when it comes to CO2 footprint and marine biodiversity and how the impact is for that. To have innovations that help to meet those requirements, which are coming very, very fast and are going to change the industry.”

Alternative seafood

Meanwhile – on the day the first cell-based meat was approved for human consumption – two of the panellists were keen to flag up the growing importance of alternative seafood.

“I think the whole lab-growth seafood topic is also a very interesting space to follow and one that the sector should follow very closely,” said Maren Hjorth Bauer, founder of Fynd Ocean Ventures.

“Alternative forms of seafood are definitely something that’s going to impact this market. We think they are both a threat and an opportunity for players in this space. Seafood is a very particular market and established players could also play a big role in the alternatives that are coming up – whether they are plant based or fermentation-based or cell-based. I think the speed of development is very encouraging,” agreed Matthijssen.

“Some of you will have seen the news today that the first cell-based chicken product has been approved into the market in Singapore. I don’t think it will take a very long time for the first seafood-based alternative to follow suit but there’s people really pushing that envelope and Blue Nalu is amongst those, and I think this is something that will be impactful for the seafood industry overall. But I think that the growth of alternative seafood is really encouraging and I don’t think it’s really a harmful development – there are definitely overlaps that could be leveraged for innovators that have an interest in both. Whether corporates or startups. It’s definitely a trend that we are closely monitoring and will continue to be a part of,” he added.