Today is World Oceans Day, and on this occasion, we are exploring the potential applications of new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, Sensor Technologies and others in the Aquaculture sector. To that end, we are exploring the iFishIENCi project, a Horizon 2020 research project bringing together 16 partners in a trans-disciplinary effort towards making genuine improvements to fish farming worldwide through technology and circularity principles.
European fish aquaculture is a growing sector and is becoming increasingly essential for providing healthy food to an increasing world population. However, its success depends upon our ability to find more sustainable farming practices. This means more effective ways of monitoring fish-health and welfare, as well as more efficient ways of feeding fish that reduce pressure upon the source of fish-feed ingredients, such as crops and wild-caught fish for fishmeal and oil.
The new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will finance Aquaculture and Fisheries at the European level for the 20201 to 2027 period is currently making its way through the European legislative shuttle. It is set to emphasise the sustainable transition of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Sustainable Aquaculture is set to receive around 21% of the Fund, making it the second-largest subsidiary only to sustainable fishing. Further, as the European Union currently imports more than 60 % of its supply of fishery products and is therefore highly dependent on third countries, the Commission points out the critical role that aquaculture has to play. The proposal, thus, includes various areas of support in the sector, such for innovation, productive investments, compensatory measures which provide critical land and nature management services, and actions for animal health and welfare.
The ambition of iFishIENCi is developing and demonstrating disruptive IoT/AI based innovations, considering the feeding value chain as a whole, and addressing four commercially-important species, with fish quality as the focus.
Aquaculture is connected to the agriculture sector in many ways, and being a food production industry; fish farming is facing challenges similar to the challenges of the agri-food sectors. Digitalisation is a key development area that can help both industries to improve and overcome problems like sustainability, climate change, and social acceptance. The majority of European aquaculture production is done in marine cages, land-based flow-through or pond systems, and recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) with a range of production costs and environmental impacts.
iFishIENCi works closely with engineers and fish biologists, developing smart feeding and monitoring systems which will become more elaborate and precise. The increased quality will reduce both costs and environmental impact of producing some of the most critical species like Atlantic salmon, Rainbow trout, Sea bass and Seabream. By identifying new value chains for the valorisation of specific waste (dirty water, sludge) from different production systems, the project aims to achieve a zero-waste target and value creation.
The project will also demonstrate how strain selection and smart breeding can support optimising the feeding efficiency for alternative feeds in African catfish. Here cheap and sustainable feed ingredients would be essential to ensure the growth of EU production and fulfil the protein needs of the developing countries.
The iFishIENCi project aims to develop a Waste2Value standard. Waste2Value will be a set of validated value chain processes for an optimal valorisation of waste and sludge from different aquaculture production systems and accounting for the fish species and feed products. It will mostly be a value-chain, circular economy approach towards reducing waste and enhancing the sustainability of feeding fish. The wastes become valorised, through their use as substrates for the growth of microalgae, which are being selected based upon their ability to replace the conventional ingredients of fish feed.
The technological innovations the project will develop are revolutionary. Among them are the iBoss system for advanced water monitoring and smart feeding. This system allows information about fish behaviour, physiology and their environmental conditions to be collected in real-time from a variety of fish farms, and then securely transferred to the digital representation of a real fish. The analytical picture produced will take the form of the digital fish: a form of Artificial Intelligence, which can ‘learn.’ The digital fish will then send a message back to the monitoring system, which can then either inform the farmer or make an automated change. The time is taken from monitoring, decision making and response will be of a pace much quicker than what is possible by a human observer.
This revolutionary technology is still being developed, but it is set to impact European Aquaculture in the near future profoundly.
Until then, stay safe, live well, live green!