Have you ever wondered what the day of a fish looks like? Or what leads to their decision making? Well I have always been curious, and I turned that curiosity into a career path.
I am a PhD student at Dalhousie University studying fish behavior in aquaculture using acoustics. Now what does that actually mean? There are many ways to study fish behavior from putting tags into a fish and tracking an individual’s movement, to using sound to track an entire populations movement. I use both in my research to help understand different aspects of where fish swim and why.
To make a complicated technology simple, I use acoustics (sounds in the water) to send a sound signal up into the cage and, depending what type of sound is returned, will determine the amount of fish and their location in the cage. This information can be extremely useful to fish farmers as it can help them determine when to start and stop feeding, as well as how their fish respond to other environmental conditions (such as storms or harmful algae blooms).
The aim of studying fish movement is to help farmers better understand their fish and assist them in mitigating any stress that could impact the fish’s well-being. By providing this information, we can help make happier, healthier fish to help feed our growing population.
I started my life in aquaculture science as an intern while undertaking my undergrad ten years ago. I took my undergrad course in Aquaculture Engineering at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianopolis, Brazil, the same institution where I also took my M.Sc. degree in Aquaculture.
At that time, I was the first girl in a microbiology laboratory lead and run by men. In general, this was also normal: there were fewer female professors at the university when compared to the number of male professionals. In comparison to nowadays, this ratio in faculty staff has shifted to almost half in Brazil.
Afterwards I applied for a Science Without Borders program from the Brazilian Government and took my PhD in the UK, more specifically at the University of Plymouth. After four years my PhD´s supervisor invited me to participate as a Research Associate Post Doc in a project financed by Innovate UK. That was officially my first career position.
In the UK, during the 5 years spent there (4 years PhD and first year Post Doctorate program), I could also see a change in the female/male ratio in biology school. However, in aquaculture there are still more men as undergrad and master students, a tendency which is also transparent in early career scientists.
A few issues and questions have contributed to this scenario. Planning personal life is the main one. For example, the aquaculture environment where you work with live animals is difficult to plan: when is the next experiment? When will it start? Fish supply is just one key point that we could mention. The lack of opportunities and facilities focused in pregnant women or who have month-old babies is another issue. In some cases, they are unable to attend conferences or courses due to this.
In this context, an interesting contribution comes from Brazil’s curriculum vitae platform: now it’s allowed for women to add to their CV the time spent in parental leave(1) where their contribution decreases drastically due to their crucial parental role. This is a huge step forward in Brazilian academic society, due to the fact that the role of mothers, parents and caretakers is traditionally seen as non-productive time (or leisure) by society (and academic society as well). As we move towards decreasing trends in birth rates, the role of children will hopefully be better valued by society.
As a young woman and researcher working in the aquaculture sector, I believe that we have our space in several roles in the industry and academia. However, until there is still sexism (and unfortunately this includes men and women), we should debate gender equality in the Aquaculture environment. I will be the first one to keep raising this flag.
As consumers what do we look for in our food? Something tasty, that we like, want and are able to find in our towns and cities. We look for healthy options, at least as far as we are able or willing to go. Fish – or shellfish – either farmed or wild mostly fits such criteria, especially when compared to other available animal protein sources.
We also want safe seafood, which is nowadays commonly available at most supermarkets, fish markets and even online. For most consumers on top of these considerations is the most important factor: cost. A fish that would check all of these boxes at a reasonable price, could be considered to be a GoodFish.
Although these aspects shape our choices, other considerations have entered our plates recently: now we also want our fish to be fed, grown, processed and transported sustainably – in its three-pronged meaning: ecological, social and economic.
Inside each of these three aspects of sustainability resides a multitude of components which include genuine concerns such as animal welfare, gender equality, environmental protection and waste reduction objectives which fuel the implementation of circular economy principles.
Coupled with these recent requests (and partially originated by them) also stems a demand for higher trust in the food we purchase, hence the growth in innovative technologies who enable companies to increase the traceability and transparency of their supply chains, and empower us, consumers, (ideally) to also bask in the benefits of such tools. Shortly: we want to know more about what we eat so we can shape our consumption knowingly.
On the other side of this “coin” we have: 1. Regulators seeking to create conditions that promote sustainable practices; and 2. The seafood industry, who keeps providing an ever-increasing amount of fish and shellfish to our plates, while providing livelihoods to millions of people.
In order to figure out how to breed higher quantities of fish with less environmental impacts, while not trampling over animal welfare or human rights, could be (in fact is) a tough, reachable and critical task. That is why innovations stemming from science and businesses that can help us reach these goals will play a role. In working together and combining them we can reach that sweet spot: a GoodFish.
Industrially implemented in northern Europe (mainly Iceland and Scandinavia) a century ago to manage herring fishery wastes, the production of fish meal and fish oils were – and still are – traditional ways of valorizing by-products generated by the fishing industry. Extensible also to the co-products produced in the de-heading, gutting and filleting of the heads, viscera and frames of farmed fish (salmon, trout or sea bass), fish meal plays a fundamental role in the productive system of the aquaculture industry as final receptors (managers) of their wastes, and producers of the aforementioned compounds. The market value of fish meal is a function of its level of protein, and fish oils are more valued the higher the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both products are essential ingredients in aquaculture feed formulations.
However, other alternatives and processes of valorization can be applied to these substrates: the production of fish protein hydrolysates (FPHs) and marine peptones generated from all wastes, the recovery of collagen and gelatin from the skins or hydroxyapatites of the fish bones. Within the framework of the GAIN project, the Marine Research Institute (IIM-CSIC, Vigo, Spain) is developing and optimizing these alternatives, initially on a lab scale, and scaling some of them in the pilot plant available in the IIM-CSIC. The raw materials studied are heads, trimmings, frames and viscera from rainbow trout, salmon, turbot and carp.
In the first case, the production of FPHs consists in the application of proteases, mainly exogenous, to the mixing of the crushed wastes with water working under optimal experimental conditions (pH, T, enzyme concentration, etc.) for the adequate enzymatic hydrolysis of the substrates. The solid hydrolysates generated after the separation of the bones and oils present in the initial substrates and the drying process are a highly digestible protein-rich material, with a varied set of peptides of different sizes, in some cases with certain bioactive properties and better nutritional characteristics than the fish meal used as ingredient in aquaculture feed. It is in this direction where the application of the FPHs produced in the IIM-CSIC will be focused: the preparation by SPAROS of new formulations for aquaculture feed based, among other ingredients, on FPH’s. Additionally, hydrolysates from individuals of blue whiting discarded by European fishing fleets and which must be landed to the ports following the new EU fishing policy (Landing Obligation) will also be evaluated in salmonids feed.
The second of the examples consists in the production of marine peptones from the FPHs after stages of autoclaving and centrifugation. These fluids rich in protein material should be a source of organic nitrogen of great potential in the formulation of nutritive media for the cultivation of bacteria with important technological applications (probiotics, dairy starters, producers of bacteriocins and lactic acid, etc.). On the other hand, collagen and gelatins that can be recovered from fish skins, combining different chemical, enzymatic and thermal purification/extraction steps, could be biomaterials of interest in pharmacological, nutraceutical and food sectors. Finally, thermally processed clean bones of muscular debris, should have a composition rich in calcium phosphates with possibilities of application as a food supplement, incorporated into fertilizers or as bioapatites for bone regeneration.
We hope that the processes that will be developed within GAIN will lead to other alternatives, economically more profitable, for the management of aquaculture by-products beyond the well-established production of fish meal.
I am Edouard, a French engineer working within GAIN for Università Ca’Foscari (UNIVE) in Venice, Italy. In my previous life, I was busy launching satellites. Now I am discovering the fascinating world of aquaculture and finding out that dynamic systems and data assimilation are becoming key tools in managing aquafarms. Within the GAIN project I’m trying to set up a model of a trout farm based on data provided from Troticoltura Leonardi located in Preore (Trentino, Italy).
Rainbow trout farming is the main fish farming activity in northern Italy, allowed by the presence of many watercourses coming from the Alpes Mountains. The last Italian census of aquaculture (PO FEAMP 2014-2020) counted 310 freshwater farming companies, most of them producing rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). These farms are mainly located in Northern Italy, particularly in 3 different regions: Veneto (70 farms), Friuli Venezia Giulia (68) and Trentino Alto Adige (58).
If on the one hand trout farming is a traditional productive activity in Italy, on the other hand the new generation of farmers are looking forward to exploring the application of new technologies and collaboration leading to the optimization of management practices. This is the case of Dr. Matteo Leonardi who together with his company, Troticoltura Leonardi S.r.l., is involved in GAIN as an associated partner. But, how can a traditional productive activity such as trout farming be eco-intensified? This was the question risen by GAIN and now, at the beginning of the second year of the project, everything is ready to answer that question!
On July 16th 2019, with my colleagues Roberto Pastres and Andrea Forchino we met Filippo Faccenda (Fondazione Edmund Mach – FEM) and Mateo Leonardi at Preore in Troticoltura Leonardi aquafarm.
It was first an opportunity to monitor the sensors that were immersed at the beginning of July: water quality sensors provided and managed by FEM, and the daily biomass system. Second, it was the occasion to acquire the first data in order to accomplish an in-situ validation of the acquisition systems. Concerning water quality sensor, it was installed in one of the six raceways of the farm to continuously record data on ammonia, nitrates, redox potential, pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. All sensors are working well and the activities of the next weeks will be focused on the periodic transfer from the site to the IBM Castor platform, both from the technical and organizational point of view. These data will be crucial in trying to model the relationship between biomass growth, oxygen rate, temperature and feeding strategy.
But the meeting was also a good way to share again the objectives of the GAIN project related to Troticoltura Leonardi: Matteo Leonardi explained again his farming process and the concerns related to the lack of forecast in the frame of oxygen concentration (and its regulation) and its influence on feeding assimilation. Both inner products (oxygen and feeding) are for the farmer two important costs, as well as two central parameters for the welfare of the rainbow trout.
It was then the opportunity to confirm again the pertinence of the objectives of the GAIN project regarding farmers concerns and the challenges they face everyday in growing trout in raceways with water that continuously fluctuates in quality (due to its origin in natural water courses).
The GAIN work will now consist in modelling the biomass growth, the oxygen concentration variation due to animals behavior, and the evolution of temperature, seeking to build reliable forecasts that can support the farmer in his day-to-day decisions, reducing the costs and increasing welfare of the fishes. In one word, optimizing the process!
Blockchain is a form of distributed ledger technology (DLT), which is still in its early stage. A practical application of this technology is the well-known cryptocurrency Bitcoin, however, less known to the public are the applications beyond cryptocurrencies. This technology also shows potential to improve traceability and transparency in supply chains and could therefore change stakeholders and consumers perspectives towards commodities, practices and products.
This is due to the essence of blockchain technology, which consists of a chain of data packed “blocks” that records and verifies transactions that take place across a peer-to-peer network. The data in these blocks is secured with a cryptographic signature, called a hash, which should be identical in the next block in order to verify that the data is not manipulated. This mechanism provides security and guarantees that the data is immutable.
So far, retailers have been focusing in ways to improve trust in their own supply chains while simplifying problem solving. Consumers on the other hand are becoming increasingly aware of sustainability and social issues: a trend that is expected to be the standard in the future. However, supply chains are often complex networks of (international) stakeholders with their own practices and perspectives towards sustainability.
Currently a large proportion of these stakeholders use paperwork or traditional computer systems to keep track of commodities and products and most of these systems do not interact directly across the supply chain. This results in a lack of traceability and transparency throughout the supply chain all the way up to the consumer. However, the ability of a blockchain to securely verify and store up-to-date data across a commonly shared network could provide a more accurate insight into stakeholder practices along the supply chain.
The accessibility to the layers of data depends on the type of blockchain (public or private) and could differ between stakeholder depending on their authorization level. This could mean that e.g. consumers could access sustainability data about a product through an app, while other stakeholders could access information about certain ingredients, origin and waste hotspots.
This technology shows potential to improve the traceability and transparency of supply chains, by feeding the blockchain with manual input of data or by combining this technology with Internet of Things (IoT), such as GPS trackers, light, temperature, humidity, oxygen and movement sensors. This provides the stakeholders along the supply chain and the final consumer not only with information about the previous product conditions, but also about the specific stakeholders handling their commodities and products. This information alone or combined with other available information (e.g. license and certification) provides a transparent insight in the ‘social and environmental conscience’ along the supply chain, sharing business practices and attitudes of stakeholders towards sustainability.
Additionally, advanced sensors, modelling tools and apps could provide the consumer with a wider range of information about commodities or products, such as environmental footprints (water, land, carbon and energy). On the other side, producers could have access to information highlighting energy hotspots, waste streams and by-products, leading to better decision making. This could decrease waste production and the loss of valuable ingredients and resources, supporting circular economy principles.
Consumer demand for safe seafood is another present-day concern that will tend to have more relevance in future generations eating habits. Technologies that enable fish consumers to better ‘fact-check’ the origin, fish species, movements or condition of their food, with easy-to-use traceability and transparency tools can have a role to play.
Still, as with any new technology or innovation, there are issues that must be solved, and others that are yet to surface. The drivers and barriers of blockchain technology for consumers, small and large scale fish farmers and other stakeholders along the supply chain is relatively unknown. There are certainly many challenges that need to be addressed in converting real life into the blockchain.
The rapid increase in sensor capacities and computational power are opening new avenues for the aquaculture industry. Mirroring developments in agriculture, interconnected Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, big data analytics, and Artificial intelligence (AI) promise to revolutionise aquaculture supply and value chains. However, the application of the Precision Agriculture framework and tools is very challenging, requiring detailed knowledge on a three-dimensional system in the harsh ocean environment: it is not easy to observe what is happening in a 20 m deep cage containing about 150,000 individuals, while making sense of these observations in a chaotic environment pose very real challenges!
GAIN comes on the scene at this very exciting time: we are assessing the performances of new, market-ready sensors for non-invasive monitoring of fish distribution and behaviour, as well as key environmental variables (e.g. water temperature, dissolved oxygen). We are processing these complex data using machine learning and big data analytics, discovering patterns and anomalies which can facilitate the optimisation of feeding and other husbandry operations (e.g. net changes).
In late June, I left a very hot Venice and traveled north to Norway, to the midnight sun village of Inndyr, in Nordland County, to discuss the preliminary results of our comprehensive monitoring programme with Giulia and Ronald (GIFAS), who have installed and are looking after the sensors, and with Fearghal (IBM Research), expert in AI and IoT. Inndyr is located in the Gildeskål municipality which, in Viking times, was a renowned meeting point for the whole region. Aquaculture is the backbone of the local economy, to which our industry partner GIFAS (Gildeskål Forskningsstasjon AS) provided a relevant contribution in its thirty years of activities, which were celebrated this year. Far from being seen as an environmentally unfriendly activity, in this area aquaculture provides jobs, fosters educational activities and also represents a touristic attraction. Domus Pisces is a building owned by Nordland county and used by both the local highschool (Meløy VGS avd. Inndyr) and GIFAS. GIFAS uses it both for running cleaner fish tank-based trials and for promotion of aquaculture. For the latter purpose, GIFAS has an aquarium containing salmon, a hall exhibiting informative, aquaculture-themed posters and a small souvenir shop. In addition, the promotional centre of GIFAS runs tours to its research and commercial sites and these services are used by tourists, school and universities, amongst others.
Giulia and Ronald welcomed myself and Fearghal at GIFAS headquarters in Inndyr. We sat down in a cosy meeting room and started looking at data collected in the last five months. Our observing system was installed at GIFAS salmon production site Rossøya, about 10 minutes by boat from Inndyr.
We equipped one of the 90 m circumference cages that you can see in the picture above with ABM, a close-to-market system for detecting individual fish position and estimating its weight and swimming speed. The 20 m-deep cage was stocked with about 150,000 fish: we have been following their growth and behaviour day by day since February 2019.
ABM was selected because it could represent the silver bullet for dealing with the three-dimensionality issue: it provides data along the vertical water column and, with up to 50,000 detections per day, statistics concerning fish average weight are based on a representative sample size. Fish distribution is displayed every five minutes on a dashboard, allowing barge operators to inspect their feeding behaviour (feeding fish tend to congregate near the surface), as seen in Fig.1.
We also deployed sensors for measuring water temperature (below, left), dissolved oxygen (below, right) and water current every 10 minutes. The upper-portion of the cage is surrounded by an impermeable barrier to prevent lice entry. This may also reduce the water flow and circulation, thus affecting dissolved oxygen levels which may affect fish appetite and, ultimately, growth.
Water temperature profile.
Dissolved oxygen profile.
The data are flowing to a cloud platform designed by IBM: Fearghal and his colleagues are crunching these numbers in order to extract useful information to improve feeding efficiency, provide accurate predictions of salmon growth, and disseminate early-warning on anomalous patterns. We are eager to see the results: keep following the blog and you’ll be the first to know!