According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, between 1990 and 2018, global aquaculture production increased by nearly 530%, but traditional marine aquaculture still accounts for the majority of it. According to Blue Food Assessment's research, by 2050, the global demand for seafood may increase by as much as 80%. This means that aquaculture is increasingly relying on high-tech technology to help meet growing demand while reducing its environmental impact.
Norway has always been recognized as a global leader in aquaculture, is known for innovation in aquaculture, and is home to the most sustainable aquaculture farms in the world. Take Kvarøy Arctic as an example. This is the third-generation family aquaculture company that has been raising salmon in the Arctic Circle since 1976. In the past two decades, Kvarøy Arctic has actively used technology and taken measures to reduce its environmental footprint.
Currently, the company's biggest innovation is related to blockchain technology, which improves product transparency and traceability. In the end, a system will be created, from the fish eggs to the product packaging, and the company will be held accountable at every step. According to the company’s CEO Alf-Gøran Knutsen, Kvarøy Arctic already has a lot of basic data about the farm, such as where salmon are reproduced, how they are fed, and how they are selected, but these data are scattered and kept separately. In the new blockchain system, data about fish eggs, farms, harvesting and processing are integrated into the blockchain; then, they are connected together to create a data chain that contains information about each stage of the salmon life cycle. By cooperating with fish feed manufacturer Biomar, Kvarøy Arctic even added individual ingredients in salmon feed to the blockchain.
Kvarøy Arctic’s product packaging already has a QR code printed on it, and hopes to fully implement the traceability system with retail partners sometime next year. These data are not only beneficial to customers, but also help aquaculture companies to improve themselves, increase efficiency, and reduce fish mortality. For example, Kvarøy Arctic is currently testing a tool that can tell when to start raising roe so that it can sell a certain amount of salmon before a certain date.
The company also found a laser lice removal system that can treat salmon parasites-sea lice without the use of antibiotics. The system was developed by the Norwegian technology company Stingray Marine Solutions and relies on machine vision technology to eliminate sea lice without harming salmon or polluting the environment. In the near future, Kvarøy Arctic will also use artificial intelligence to monitor the health of fish. The company is considering introducing a system that will identify and track individual salmon so that trauma and other potential health problems can be found at any time.
In terms of fish feed, in addition to fish meal and krill, Kvarøy Arctic also uses vegetable protein, starch and vegetable oil for feeding, and purchases feed from closer to fish farms. In the next year, the company will focus on launching its first land-based fish farm and using renewable electricity to power more businesses.
Although traditional aquaculture has increased the production capacity of global seafood, the impact of the industry on the marine environment cannot be ignored. Traditional fish farms may cause algal blooms and ocean dead zones. Farmed fish can also spread diseases to already vulnerable wild populations. For this reason, for example, Washington State in the United States banned salmon farming at sea in 2018, and Argentina became the first country to ban salmon farming this year. The industry generally believes that traditional aquaculture cannot solve the bottleneck problem of seafood supply; it is necessary to meet the demand for aquatic products while reducing the impact of aquaculture on the environment, so land-based aquaculture production facilities have become a natural choice.
The goal of land-based fish farms is to solve some of the problems of traditional aquaculture, the biggest of which is marine pollution. In underwater cage culture, animal excrement and uneaten feed are released into the surrounding waters. There are not many fish farms on land. Take The Kingfish Company, a Dutch amberjack, as an example. In its onshore fish farm system, water quality is more controlled. The sea water is cleaned in the process of introducing the system to maintain the best condition, and then cleaned again in the process of being discharged. This controllability can also prevent parasites or diseases from entering the fish farm, thereby eliminating the need for antibiotics or other drugs. In contrast, this is another big problem of traditional aquaculture.
The Kingfish Company's onshore fish farm in the Netherlands
Because yellow yellowtail is a high-end seafood, they use high-quality fish feed and reduce animal ingredients, such as replacing fish meal with insect protein. Because there is no commercial source for the fingerlings or eggs of yellow yellowtail, the hatchery and fry rearing stage are the key to the company. The Kingfish Company’s system simulates the seasonal light and temperature conditions experienced by yellow amberjacks in the wild, so when the indoor lighting time is extended and the water temperature rises, they will feel that spring is here and they will lay eggs. In about 15 days, the fry can grow to about 2.5 cm in length; then they are transferred to the main system, where they will live for up to 11 months.
This onshore fish farm in the Netherlands uses 100% renewable energy to support the system power of yellow yellowtail throughout its life cycle. Its planned aquaculture facility in Maine, USA, will also use at least about 50% of renewable energy.
The overall goal of The Kingfish Company is to be at the forefront of technology-driven aquaculture. According to Ohad Maiman, the founding partner and CEO of the company, in the past one or two years, land-based aquaculture technology has evolved from an experimental technology to a commercially viable technology; High value-added aquatic products that rely on imports have become the company's ideal pilot variety to meet the demand for yellow striped amberjack in high-end restaurants and retail stores. The Kingfish Company is currently considering another high-value fish that can be introduced into its fish farm.
To some extent, any new technology will become less mysterious, and then the first companies that can scale up and establish market positions will lead the industry forward. The same is true for aquaculture. Considering the continued growth in demand for seafood in the next 30 years, this industry needs the continuous support of technical solutions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, properly managed fish farms can help maintain or even rebuild fish stocks. Kvarøy Arctic and The Kingfish Company provide the best examples of how aquaculture companies can combine the experience of several generations with technological innovation to have a better impact.