Aquaculture has gained prominence in recent years, and Aquaticode CEO Stian Rognlid believes it will be the solution to feeding 9.7 billion people by 2050. He also thinks that, although the industry has come a long way, there is still a long way to go, and artificial intelligence (AI) is going to play a big role.
Having worked for Nutreco and Skretting in Brazil, Ireland, and Norway, as well as with emerging technologies, such as RAS, Rognlid has a strong industry background. ‘Innovation has been a constant throughout my career, and I have been privileged to participate in the evolution of the industry.’
Now, as the CEO of Aquaticode, his focus is towards building artificial intelligence (AI) for the aquaculture industry. The company is the result of R&D (Research and Development) collaborations with 15 different partners across the value chain of multiple aquatic species. Innovation happens when you learn and expand your horizons for new opportunities. ‘The big breakthroughs in the industry are still ahead of us’, he says.
Aquaticode was founded by Nacre Capital, a venture builder specializing in AI for the life sciences. Nacre Capital leverages their domain knowledge to create, build, and grow deep tech start-ups. They typically complement their expertise with an industry advisory board from the outset. In line with Aquaticode’s mission to revolutionize aquaculture, Rognlid was recommended by the advisory board and subsequently appointed as the CEO.
‘Being part of the Nacre ecosystem allows us to exchange ideas and learnings across the different portfolio companies, who all have in common that they are leveraging AI to solve significant challenges within their respective sectors’.
Rognlid believes that the fourth industrial revolution, the combination of AI and automation, will be a force of change in the industry. Technology adaptation is happening quickly in agriculture, with the advent of, for example, sorting seeds for desirable traits and cultivating fields with autonomous tractors. When it comes to aquaculture, he points out that it’s not a question of ‘if’ and ‘to what degree’ similar disruptions will happen, but ‘how fast’.
‘That’s a good thing’, he continues. ‘How to feed the future is the greatest question of our time, and, like many others, I believe aquaculture is the answer. Salmon is high in nutritional value, yet the production footprint is low compared to alternatives. Although there are some very real limitations to growth (MAB), the industry has come a long way in a short time – and there is still a lot of untapped potential’.
AI can unlock enormous value in the aquaculture industry. It provides faster, better, and more consistent decisions and interventions. There are several actors working with data from various sensors, such as water quality and fish behavior, to provide valuable decision-making information to farmers.
Such is the case, Rognlid tells us, with SORTpro, Aquaticode’s first product, a sort-gender fish machine. As he explains, males reach their optimal harvest weight six months before females. Waiting for females to catch up increases farming expenses, footprint, as well as biological risks (parasites and maturation), but the alternative, not waiting, reduces yield. So, mono-sex stocks enable optimized production cycles and increased profits.
Currently, gender sorting is done mainly in Chile, where teams of 15-30 people perform ultrasound scans of each individual fish. According to him, their system’s AI and automation combo provides a faster and more efficient process, making the practice more accessible and cost-effective.
‘This service has not been available at scale in other regions – until now. We are proud to share that we have been granted patents in several key markets, including Chile. This is important because we are a young company and maintaining control over our breakthroughs is key to our longevity’.
Moreover, Aquaticode’s plan is to expand SORTpro’s capabilities via over-the-air updates, such as removing matured fish. Keeping a healthy innovation pipeline is one of their main priorities as defined by the board, Rognlid says, and the company also has research efforts targeting shrimp.
While there is no silver bullet that will allow us to produce enough food within the planetary boundaries, it is safe to say that AI will contribute to reduced labor costs and improved productivity in the aquaculture industry, enabling farmers to produce more sustainable and healthy seafood.