Offshore sites or the unavoidable need to renew new forms of farming

Offshore sites or the unavoidable need to renew new forms of farming

We have the feeling that we are about to witness, if not already, a far-reaching transformation in the world of salmon farming. Breaking news appears more and more about small and not-so-small variations in the way of producing, consuming, and regulating salmon.

For all these reasons, it seems more than ideal to put on the table the subject of other production processes developed in the tireless task of human beings to renew themselves and adapt to the times.

Offshore farms, closed pen method, or what we commonly know as closed farming systems are emerging approaches to aquaculture. All of them, presumably reduce pollution, fish escapes, negative wildlife interactions, and parasite and disease transfer from farms to marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Below we present the opinions of various experts on this matter and what current projects we can find in the portfolio of the most important companies.

The future of fish farming

Although fish farming is often presented as a more sustainable solution as it requires less water, area, feed, and energy, Hans Bjelland, Research Director at SINTEF advises that the for sustainable food production and the desire to grow should visualize also its problems and encourage to find solutions.

Problems are lice, pollution, area conflicts, fish escape leading to genetic consecration of wild fish, and so on. Thus, some fish farmers have moved their farming to sites that are more remote and/or have harsher environmental conditions. What they look for is increased distance between wild salmon and between the facilities to decrease conflict with fishers and local communities, and to improve the prevention of lice and diseases.

Besides, Bjelland mentions the replacement of water to improve production. This can be the future of fish farming. Yet, as these sites are challenging in terms of waves, wind, and current – how can we safeguard the farmed fish, personnel, and environment? Our research center Exposed Aquaculture Operations has been researching this for seven years.

The importance of further research

Research dissemination is therefore high on the agenda in 2022. Shared knowledge can drive developments in the right direction. The industry and politicians need research results to make knowledge-based decisions when assessing different solutions for future aquaculture.

EXPOSED is a Centre for Research based Innovation (SFI), a funding scheme administered by the Norwegian Research Council's Division for Innovation. It has the main objective to enhance the capability of the business sector to innovate by focusing on long-term research based on creating close alliances between research-intensive enterprises and prominent research groups.

Therefore, the purpose of these researchers is to find out and develop what we really need to know more deeply. For example, the fish which is the root of the matter and a prerequisite for developing technology and solutions that provide its welfare.

Moreover, how the structures, pens and nets must be constructed to withstand environmental conditions at exposed sites without compromising fish welfare and personnel safety. We should not forget also the vessels and equipment that can be used safely and efficiently on a daily basis, also in harsh conditions.

Furthermore, systems and strategies to provide safety and welfare for fish, environment, and personnel with more autonomous technology that makes daily routine work and regular operations less risky, demanding and more precise.

Finally, solutions for monitoring so workers make good decisions even if they are not present on the pens. The decisions shall safeguard the fish, environment, personnel, and equipment.

Over almost eight years, nineteen partner organizations have worked together to find the good solutions. The cooperation between fish farmers, supplier companies and research environment has yielded results on what the fish and materials can withstand, and how to organize operations to succeed in safe exposed operations, Bjelland continues.

The aquaculture industry is in a period of change, with many possible directions forward – and it is crucial that the directions chosen protects the environment, fish, and employees. SFI EXPOSED's job is to ensure robust and safe solutions.

Why bet on offshore aquaculture operations

About this matter, Doug Hanchett, director of communications at Innovasea, explains us the advantages of offshore sites compared to others. Firstly, offshore sites provide a better, more natural environment to raise fish with better water conditions, temperatures and fewer pathogens.

Secondly, farming in offshore environments helps lessen the impacts on the surrounding environment. Deeper, more dynamic waters can easily disperse and assimilate effluent from the farm (ammonia and particulate organic matter being the primary ones). Studies have shown that open ocean farms often create new habitats for a diverse collection of marine organisms. It has a positive impact on capturing fisheries in the area.

On the other hand, he recalls that we can find a limited number of available sites for aquaculture close to shore. In addition, these will have to alternate with other uses ass hipping, energy production, and recreation. Open ocean sites have fewer conflicts. There are plenty of feasible sites if you deploy the proper equipment and technology, Hanchett underlines.

To achieve all this, Innovasea has developed artificial intelligence solutions whose aim is to optimize feeding operations. This will provide accurate, real-time estimates of biomass in a pen. We have other technologies that are enabling automation. For example, our aquaControl solution helps farms better protect their fish. Besides, enhance production while at the same time significantly reducing energy consumption.

aquaControl system – Innovasea

In addition, our SeaStation and our unique submerged grid mooring system have redefined where aquaculture can happen. Making it a reality across the globe in locations that feature strong currents, frequent bad weather and even hurricanes and typhoons, the director explains.

Main species to be considered

According to Hanchett, open ocean environments are typically more stable than near-shore environments. It also features consistently high dissolved oxygen, moderate to strong currents, stable temperatures, and lower bacteria and parasite abundance.

This allows species that demand higher water quality parameters to thrive. Although a wide range of species can be suitable for offshore environments. Production costs can be high relative to near-shore pens (but close to the costs of RAS production methods). So, species need to have a high market value. As with any fish farm, a species that grows quickly tolerates handling stress and high densities. Moreover, digesting alternative protein sources is preferable.

For example, he details that the best options in tropical locations would be red snapper, Almaco jack, and barramundi. In more mid-temperature locations, other Seriola species, red drum, and several species of bass are promising. In temperate waters, salmon, steelhead trout, cod, and sablefish are strong contenders. There are also regional species that may offer local opportunities in different areas, he indicates.

Meeting point between corporations and governments

Several countries in the world are facing government legislation that makes it more difficult to obtain relevant licenses. Hanchett thinks today's opposition to aquaculture is based on how things were done 30 years ago.

The industry is still young. But like every other industry, it has evolved quite a bit over the last three decades. Production methods have improved. Feed is far more advanced. Manufacturers have dramatically cut down on the use of fish meal and fish oil to help reduce environmental impacts. Overall the industry has gotten better at managing the impact of fish farms on their surrounding environments.

Further, he alerts the need to be balance between developing common sense regulations that ensure that fish farming is done properly and giving responsible businesses the opportunity to get off the ground so they can raise fish sustainably and create good-paying jobs.

I think the top concern is the ongoing reluctance of governments and regulators to recognize aquaculture as one of the best ways to produce protein for the world's growing population. Until more countries start to see the potential of aquaculture and understand that it can be done in a safe, sustainable manner, it's going to hinder investment and growth, he sustains.

Looking for places where no one thought aquaculture was possible before

Innovasea offers a complete egg-to-harvest solution. It includes the design, development and the equipment of a state land-based RAS facility. Here companies can raise juveniles and grow them out to harvest size.

Contrarily, they have the option of taking those juveniles and transfer them to a grid of its rugged, submersible pens for grow out. Despite the grow out method, Innovasea solutions can be used to monitor water conditions, manage the farm and optimize production.

Bigger picture, we're helping create a more sustainable way to farm fish. Helping companies to locate places where no one thought aquaculture was possible before. Our solutions are opening up new areas to fish farming. That's going to help the industry grow, the director of communications encourages.

Newfoundland – Establishing a region with responsible farming

We would like to finish this article by mentioning Grieg Seafood's new growth area and promising project, Newfoundland. The company is today building a platform for further sustainable growth beyond 2026 on the east coast of Canada.

Regarding this, CEO Andreas Kvame, explained: "We are ready to use our existing business in Norway and British Columbia. Together with our new growth platform in Newfoundland to bring Grieg Seafood to the next level."

NEWFOUNDLAND – Grieg Seafood

During the capital markets day, Grieg Seafood presented its operational and financial targets promoted through this project. Through this stand out an increase of the harvest volumes to 120-135,000 tonnes in 2026.

Moreover, a long-term target of net interest-bearing debt to harvest volume ratio of NOK 30/kg and equity ratio of above 31%. Further, a requirement of a minimum of 12% return on capital employed (ROCE) for all investment decisions

Finally, it mentioned a dividend policy to distribute 30% – 40% of the Group's net profit after tax adjusted for fair value appraisals.

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