Ocean Farm 1 is the world’s most advanced cage, and the first ever offshore cage. Moving fish farms offshore is a bold idea, and the theory is that water replacement is much better offshore, which will minimize the facility’s environmental footprint on the ocean floor. Ecotone is set to document whether the actual results are as good as researchers hope.
Off the coast of Trøndelag 1 million salmon are currently swimming in Ocean Farm 1—SalMar’s full-scale offshore pilot facility for testing, research and development. The facility hopes to spearhead a sustainable future for aquaculture, keeping its footprint on the ocean environment to a minimum.
“In order for aquaculture to expand sustainably, we have to make use of new ocean areas. Ocean Farm 1 is the world’s first project to move fish farming offshore”, said Gunnar Myrebøe, chair of Ocean Farming, who jumped at the opportunity when development licences became available in 2015.
Great innovation—great investments
Development licences from the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries are granted in an effort to resolve the challenges faced by the aquaculture industry as it expands, and entail that Norwegian authorities share some of the financial risk involved in innovation. These licences are reserved for projects that represent significant innovation and involve considerable investments.
On the salmon’s terms
The facility at Frohavet was the first project to be granted a development licence. The SalMar mantra “fish farming on the salmon’s terms, not constrained by the limitations of the equipment” was a guiding principle in developing the facility, which is chock-full of state-of-the-art solutions for collecting and interpreting data. Furthermore, it is not a stretch to presume that the best place to farm North Atlantic salmon is, well, the North Atlantic Ocean.
“We have been fortunate to be able to pick and choose from the best when selecting partners for this project; there has been considerable interest from suppliers. A majority of the technology and expertise that has gone into this project is Norwegian, and Ecotone and Kongsberg Maritime are two excellent examples of partners who deliver technology based on Norwegian expertise”, Myrebøe explained. “Ocean Farm 1 is a major collaborative effort, and we have succeeded in recruiting the best partners in the areas where we needed outside expertise.”
Myrebøe, formerly vice president in charge of projects and procurations in Statoil, believes hyperspectral imaging holds great potential for both the aquaculture and offshore industries. “I believe it’s extremely interesting. In the petroleum industry, Ecotone has applied this technology to look at corals and pollution. The same technology can now be used to monitor and document the environment on the ocean floor below the offshore cage.
The seabed is mapped by a process called underwater hyperspectral imaging (UHI). This technology makes it possible to get an overview of the seabed underneath the facility. Ecotone provides a map, which shows the location of sediments and habitats. The method commonly used by the industry today is taking samples from selected locations. Mapping the seabed using UHI provides a much better overall picture of the area underneath the cage.
Mapping process underway
Ecotone has completed its mapping of the seabed at Frohavet. Once the first round of salmon production is completed in 2018, Ecotone will map the area again. The results from these two mappings will then be compared to determine whether the facility has had a negative environmental impact.
Comprehensive view of the entire seabed
Hyperspectral sensor technology is ideal for mapping the ocean floor and distinguishing between various objects, sediments, organisms and habitats.
Imagine an infrared camera, where everything warm will show up as bright objects on the monitor. In a hyperspectral system, objects, habitats or sediments of interest will light up” in different colours. This is possible because a hyperspectral camera sees the world in a broad spectrum of colours—colours standard cameras and human eyes cannot see. Ecotone has a library of colour signatures, including langoustine, corals and fish farm waste, and they are able to generate a map where each of these objects of interest light up in different colours, highlighting the distribution of waste and various species.
Ecotone is the sole supplier of this technology in the world, and they hold patents in 15 countries. “Hyperspectral imaging is the preferred method for remote monitoring in land, and we are currently developing solutions offering the same opportunities for automatic monitoring and objective classification for maritime industries”, explained Ivar Erdal, CEO of Ecotone.
The aquatic environment was a primary concern in selecting a location for Ocean Farm 1. Frohavet fit the bill. On its way up the Norwegian coast, the Gulf Stream continuously pumps new water in from the Atlantic, while simultaneously transporting the water back out into the Atlantic along another path. In a regular fjord-based location, water replacement is largely dependent on tidal currents, which means that a lot of the water taken away by the flowing tide could return with the ebbing tide.
Could help reduce fallow time
By law, all fish farming facilities must have a certain period of inactivity after each production cycle. During this time, the cage and equipment must be inspected, disinfected and cleaned. In addition, one must make sure that the ocean floor is not negatively affected by the fish farming activity. Today, seabed samples must be collected after each cycle. The current technology involves taking so-called grab samples, which are random samples taken from the ocean floor. These samples are both incredibly detailed and extremely localized. This means luck is a factor, and you could end up collecting samples from a location where the waste concentration is not representative for the rest of the seabed.
Feed residue and fish waste are especially prone to accumulate on the ocean floor if the currents are not strong enough. In any event, the facility must be taken out of production for a period of at least 8 weeks, but if after these 8 weeks the accumulation of waste on the seabed has not been washed away, the facility must remain inactive until the seabed has returned to its natural state. The industry would prefer to reduce this period of inactivity as much as possible, but only if it is environmentally sustainable to do so.
Seabed mapping in everyone’s best interest
“It’s very important to us to monitor the seabed to ensure good and sustainable fish farming. Perhaps the Directorate of Fisheries should include this type of seabed mapping as a part of its requirements and regulations, even in fjord-based fish farming. Whatever authorities decide, there is great potential in the market for Ecotone’s technology, and I truly believe this is a solution for the future”, Myrebøe said.
Sustainable and environmentally conscious operation ensures that the seabed environment remains unaffected by fish farming. At the same time, the industry must document its sustainability if authorities are to grant licences for increased production. Monitoring the seabed is therefore in the best interest of nature, the authorities and the industry itself.
Ecotone’s objective is to deliver a seabed mapping technology that makes it possible for both authorities and fish farmers to document the distribution of species and sediments in entire areas, so that all parties involved can make better decisions concerning periods of inactivity and locations for future facilities.
For the industry, there is considerable potential for increased profitability if it were possible to reduce the period of inactivity. Every day of inactivity is a day of production lost. If the industry can document that the seabed is not affected by fish farming operations, it can, in time, demand reductions in the period of inactivity.
Automatic lice counting in the cage
Ecotone’s technology could also prove useful in resolving other challenges the aquaculture industry is faced with. “We are currently in communication with Ecotone about installing their system for automatic lice detection and counting, SpectraLice, on Ocean Farm 1. For us, this could automate the counting process and give us much better data. And, not least, early notice of the presence of lice and increased infestation. Today, we have to handle the fish, taking it out of the cage to count lice, so this technology is very interesting to us”, said Myrebøe. To distinguish between the salmon louse and the salmon’s skin, Ecotone relies on the same hyperspectral imaging technology it uses to distinguish between waste and various species on the seabed.
Why move fish farming offshore?
The world needs more food, and this demand is only going to continue to increase as the world’s population increases. We need more sustainable food production.
In comparison with other types of food, salmon performs well in terms of GHG-emissions. Production of 1 kg of farmed salmon requires approx. 1.2 kg of feed, whereas 4 to 8 kg of feed is required to produce 1 kg of beef. SalMar’s offshore cage can produce approx. 8,000 tons of salmon in 12 to 15 months. This is equivalent to 25,000 bulls. Furthermore, arable land is fast becoming a limited resource. The biggest potential for sustainable growth now lies at sea.
Expansion is necessary, and the potential is there. However, the industry must resolve certain challenges before further expansion becomes sustainable. That’s where development licences and Ocean Farm 1 come in. This project is all about optimizing fish health and reducing environmental impact.
If the industry can achieve better fish health and ensure that the fish can live happy and stress-free lives, they will be able to produce more food using the same quantities of feed. “Fortunately for us, good fish health equals better profitability. That means we can concentrate on making sure the fish are as happy as possible, and that their lives are free of stress and disease”, Myrebøe concluded.
An ocean of hidden information
“We develop technologies to give the aquaculture industry access to the information they need to make good decisions. Underwater hyperspectral imaging taps into a whole ocean of hidden information. In addition, the technology allows for increased automation of data collection, which means more and better data”, Ecotone’s Ivar Erdal concluded.