Sustainable farming sometimes seems like an unreachable glamorous idea. How do you feed almost 8 billion people in a sustainable way when we already know that habitats are being lost, species are going extinct, water resources are running out, etc. It seems like a fantasy.
But on a smaller scale, this may be possible. Using the ocean as a farming seascape is a great opportunity, but how do we make sure that we do not farm the sea in the same destructive way we have farmed the dry lands?
I recently worked on a project with the aim of intensifying fish and shellfish farms while improving animal welfare, all in an environmentally friendly way. This too seems like a glamorous idea. But with the help of local fishermen, scientists, software developers and, of course, you the consumer, this can be made possible.
Fundamentally, we need to realize that we do not function alone in this world, we are all part of a ‘bigger something’ that pulses and beats together, connected in one way or another. Two birds that communicate through songs, Blue Whales and Penguins that both eat krill, migrations, the metamorphosis and shedding of exoskeletons, the oxygen we breathe, the light we see, and the arms and legs that move us – we are all connected, and sustainability IS reachable is when we understand this connection.
Yesterday we launched the official GAIN project Youtube channel:
The GAIN project aims are to promote the eco-intensification of aquaculture. But what does this mean?
To sustainably farm more fish in the same area, i.e. to make more with less! With the combination of precision aquaculture, improved feeds and re-using secondary products while reducing waste, we aim to grow a healthier and environmentally friendlier fish.
A goodfish: tasty, nutritious, sustainable and happy.
To define this ’goodfish‘ we need to understand its economic and environmental sustainability, welfare as well as its nutritional and taste qualities. This way we can support consumers and businesses with metrics based on good data that compare seafood options and guide good choices.
This is the end game of GAIN: to help provide more and better seafood for the future.
After the conference it was time to go into the field and meet some of the farmers in the center and north of the country. This area of Poland is relatively flat with some hills, and large water bodies, making it an excellent habitat for carp. In late February farmers are preparing to move their fish into ‘production ponds’, which they will occupy until the next winter. At that time carps are transferred to deep (approximately 2.5m) ponds to hibernate. This cycle is repeated in the second year until the fish reach a harvesting size of 1.5 kg to 2 kg.
The carp sector faces many challenges, such as strict regulations, predators and consumer preference for other fish. Despite that, there are also many opportunities, such as better carp processing into multiple products and eco-intensification using novel formulated feeds. GAIN is exploring the sector to assess the impact of different innovations to support the sustainable growth of the industry: we are also looking forward to contribute and collaborate with everyone involved in the sector.
On February 17thUoS colleagues arrived in Poland to start data collection on the carp aquaculture value chain together with Polish partners from ZUT. The main goal is to gain insight into industry practices and collect value chain and life cycle assessment data from Polish carp farming value chain.
ZUT has a large network in the sector and proposed to meet the industry players at the 25th National Conference of Carp Breeders and Training for Fish Producers. This event took place between the 19th and 21st of February 2020 in Slok, a small town in the centre of Poland- this was an excellent opportunity to talk with stakeholders and introduce them to the GAIN project.
The Polish carp sector is considered ‘extensive’: traditional, functioning in large ponds (few hectares up to a few hundred hectares) with low feed or other inputs, while also exposed to predation from birds and other wildlife – as a result, these ponds are characterized by their natural production capacity. Intensification strategies like pond fertilization and feed application (e.g. grains or formulated feeds) are uncommon. This natural and traditional way of producing carp dates back to the middle ages where monks constructed earthen ponds to provide food for the communities. Such carp farming systems are unique to Eastern Europe and produce only a small share of the global carp production.
The majority of carp is farmed in China, using different production systems, of which some are considered ‘intensive’ – with high stocking densities, pond fertilization and formulated feeds. Most of these ponds use polyculture strategies where multiple species maintain the balance in an ecosystem – waste of one species is used as a feed input for the other.
Richard Newton substituted Wenbo Zhang (unable to travel from China due to the Coronavirus) and willingly gave the presentation while providing some interesting insights in the development of aquaculture in China and in particular the diversity in Chinese carp farming systems. Polish carp farmers were curious about it.
Over the past few decades, technological advances have completely revolutionized our society. It has influenced the way we live our lives, from the way we watch TV, to the way we conduct our scientific research. However, the aquaculture industry has fallen by the wayside. Big data, collected and distributed to our hands in the form of apps, have begun to dominate our world, so why is this not the case in one of the fastest growing industries in the world?
Atlantic Canada has recently emerged as a global leader in ocean technology, as well as playing host to one of the largest aquaculture companies in the world, Cooke Aquaculture. We have the unique opportunity of being surrounded by innovation. We are able to work side by side with the developers, as well as the consumers, to field test new technologies, and optimize their performance prior to commercialization.
However, aquaculture is still a relatively young industry, often operating in remote places, so introducing the use of technology has been difficult. Through research projects, we have been able to merge two key industry partners: ocean technology via InnovaSea, and salmon aquaculture, through Cooke, in order to improve management practices.
Meredith’s research focuses primarily on using real-time sensors to study water quality parameters, like oxygen and temperature, to understand how they vary through a farm, and what may influence these variations. At the same time, Caitlin uses acoustic telemetry to track fish movement in order to understand fish behaviour and improve welfare management. These two projects together allow us to provide a more holistic view of fish farming to create a more sustainable industry.
We hope that our work will help inform other aquaculture industries throughout the world, to become more innovative, improve farming practices, and ultimately create happier and healthier fish, with the ability to feed a growing population.
I am Caitlin, a Californian living in Canada studying salmon aquaculture at Dalhousie University. Some of the questions I get asked all the time is “why did you leave California?” and “why come to Canada?” And the answer is simple: my education.
Canada is one of the top producers in salmon in the world, and a large percentage of exported salmon is farm raised. So, what better place to study aquaculture than in Canada? It seems like a simple solution, but how could I be successful in a field mainly dominated by men?
Email after email, I contacted professors to see if there was any availability for a new graduate student, and got no response at all, or rejections with responses of “not enough funding” or “no more space for new students”. It was discouraging, and I was about to put my efforts on hold until the following school year when I met my current advisor, Dr. Jon Grant, at a benthic ecology conference. He gave me the opportunity to follow my interests of fish behavior and apply them to an expanding field of aquaculture.
Now two years later, I have been to two provinces performing fish behavior studies. There is always one thing I can rely on when going to a new site, all of the site workers are male. I have visited or worked at 4 different aquaculture sites in two different provinces and every site is mainly dominated by men, and I have more often than not been the only woman around. This has inspired me to continue to pursue my passion for improving fish welfare in aquaculture while at the same time continuing to push the next generation to pursue their dreams despite the societal norms.
The GAIN project found that some of the most popular seafood’s in Europe appear to have a higher consumption than that reported in official statistics. The report, based on seafood demand data, focused on ten European countries and a large number of seafood products.
In addition to demand data, new supply statistics were considered to include other sources of seafood, including subsistence and illegal fishing. This showed that for cod, salmon, or tuna, consumption may be higher than previously estimated.
We are increasingly looking to trust in our food.
Sustainability has entered our plates.
We found that salmon, the most consumed farmed aquatic product in the EU, appears to have a consumption of 2.21 kg per capita, significantly higher than the 1.30 kg per capita estimates based on supply data. This means that each European consumer appears to eat almost one extra kg each year of salmon unaccounted for in official statistics. Although an extra 900 grams of salmon eaten annually by each person only corresponds to an extra meal every two months, if this gap is scaled up to the European population the numbers are of concern.
Similar numbers were determined for tuna, cod, trout, and other common seafood products. Total consumption of seafood in Europe could be as much as 4.3 kg per capita for farmed products and 8.9 kg per capita for wild-caught products.
Taken on aggregate, the mass balance gap for aquatic products, i.e. from fisheries and aquaculture combined, means that as much as one million metric tons per year of seafood could end up on European plates without being recorded in official statistics.
The most likely reason for this substantial discrepancy between supply and demand data are flaws in the datasets—collectively, this introduces substantial uncertainties for policy outcomes. The GAIN project makes a number of suggestions for improvements in this critical area—without good data, there are no good decisions.
To produce a good seafood product according to ecological, welfare and human health aspects we also have to consider the economic side of the coin. The use of sustainable alternative feed, close monitoring of the production conditions or the valorisation of side-stream products is beneficial for a more sustainable production, but will also come at a cost. How high is this cost? Which production benefit or who (the consumer?) will compensate for these costs? What about the whole sector impact?
These are very important questions for farmers and the seafood industry in general, which we seek to answer within GAIN. In order to do this on farm-scale we use a so-called “typical farm approach” implemented by the agri benchmark network headed by the Thünen Institute in Germany. This is a micro-economic tool which allows to portray the typical production of a farmed species according to real costs, techniques and other inputs: all of it in great detail. In the end we can estimate, which market returns per kg fish should be achieved in order to stay (as) profitable (as before)!
Sustainable production methods themselves already benefit the farmer, resulting in better quality fish that needs less feed to grow to the same size, or achieving higher water quality which might also allow for higher stocking densities. However, such benefits do not always outweigh the full costs that adaptations towards sustainable production might involve. As long as follow-up costs of environmental impacts are not part of the market price (which is admittedly not an easy task to determine!), price differences are at the expense of sustainable products and need a transparent justification.
Originating from Germany, where public awareness and willingness to pay for more sustainable seafood products is higher than in other countries, I am convinced that a good market transparency is the way forward and I am excited to be part of this aim in combination with more sustainable seafood production within GAIN.
*The fish bought by the electro trashers band “Scooter” in the 1990’s and being the name giver for their song “How much is the fish”, cost 3.80 Deutsche Mark and supposedly lived for at least 18 years, which seems to be a quite good deal!
Hi, my name is Jessica and I’m currently working as a PhD student in Aquaculture at the Alfred-Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven.
During my Master thesis on marine biodiversity and conservation, I realized that the increasing world population couldn’t be sustainably feed by wild caught fish alone, which sparked my motivation to give my contribution to the field of sustainable seafood production.
Feeling the urge to work in an area where I can actually contribute to move forward to more sustainable outcomes, I started looking for job postings in aquaculture and was lucky to be accepted in the GAIN project.
I know from colleagues in other institutes that aquaculture research and production is mostly male-dominated. Despite this fact, from my experience at AWI we are equally distributed in the aquaculture science department. Even though the experimental facilities lack the presence of women completely (so far!) I’ve never felt uncomfortable.
Despite this, many women in the field work in supporting the hands-on work before experiments start, therefore seeing women, even though they are not directly employed in the facility, is not uncommon.
I helped with the set-up of all my tanks for the experiment, built tubes and ventilation systems mostly on my own and was responsible when the fish arrived. All staff members were very helpful and patient, despite my short experience with aquaculture at that stage.
From my experience I don’t think women will have any problems in aquaculture science in Germany as long as they do not mind to catch and sample fish, maintain and clean tanks or to get dirty while building new tank equipment.