Science fiction?

09 Feb 2016
Could the fish fingers of the future be made from plankton? Credit: EHRENBERG Kommunikation, CC BY-SA 2.0

Could the fish fingers of the future be made from plankton? Credit: EHRENBERG Kommunikation, CC BY-SA 2.0

Menakhem Ben-Yami takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the possible technology of the future.

The fishing industry and fishermen have always been considered conservative - and rightly so. Nevertheless, contemporary high level technology is increasingly encroaching on our conventional fishing ways, means and thinking.

We are exposed daily to new technological advances. We are sending unmanned spacecraft all over our solar system and even beyond, while maintaining remote control over their operation. Who needs astronauts nowadays? Not until we start colonising distant planets.

Undoubtedly, we could also employ new technological achievements in fishing, fish-farming and related aquatic fields of activity. Some may be aimed at production, while others at thrashing and crushing the various illegal activities, which are annually causing the normative ones billions of dollars of damage. We could also invent specific applications.

An all-recycling fish farm
Some innovations, which a short time ago would be considered science fiction, are already being implemented, however experimentally. Such is, for example, the futuristic fish farming enterprise near Sydney, Australia, that involves growing fish to marketable size, recycling waste water to hydroponics, growing herbs in a greenhouse system that filters and reuses 100 % of the fish waste, including faeces and all the water that the fish produce. Tanks full of bacteria are employed to convert the resulting ammonia into nitrate.

The hydroponic culture of herbs occurs overhead on slowly moving conveyer belts, on which the herbs grow fast, owing to regulated warmth and sunlight. Some of the crops, such as basil and coriander, are well priced.

Collisions
Collisions or near-collisions among sea-going vessels are perils that still threaten seafarers. Fishing people and their boats are only too often the victims. Tired helmsmen, bad visibility, and faulty radars represent some of the main hazards that can be prevented by targeted application of existing hi-tech technology. Just imagine that every sea-going vessel is equipped with a GPS linked to a worldwide network. Whenever two vessels are travelling on collision course or dangerously close to it, an automatic collision prevention system on board both vessels is activated. It takes over steering, and simultaneously triggers an alarm on board, while showing on a monitor screen the position and course of both vessels.  Science fiction? Not quite.

Marine dentistry
Most bony fish can regrow their lost teeth. When a tilapia, also called St. Peter's fish, loses a tooth, in no time it develops a replacement. Thus, tilapia remain toothy throughout their lives.

They are even able to regenerate a toothy mouthful in 50 days, says Professor Todd Streelman from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He and his team got their teeth into the genetics of this talent and hunted down the responsible gene. Enter scientists at Kings College in London, UK, who hunted down a toothy gene also in mice. All that is left is some genetic manipulative engineering, which would integrate the tilapia's/mice teeth regeneration genes into the human genome and, perhaps with St. Peter's help, we'll be able to replace our missing teeth more than once. Simple, isn't it?

Plankton ship
From the end of the last century, squads of scaremongers have been threatening humanity that all fish resources are collapsing, have already collapsed, or by the middle of this century and, if not, somewhat later, we'll be left with empty seas. Big deal, says my futurist. Who needs fish? Look, he says, on every trophic level step we lose between 50-90% of biomass. Thus, our top predators (us excluded) need some 5-10kg of smaller fish to gain 1kg of own weight, the smaller fish, again, consumes relatively similar amount of smaller organisms, who in turn, feed on still smaller creatures, all the way down to plankton.

Very good if so, because we'll be left with tremendous amounts of plankton in the sea. Our engineers will design and construct large factory ships that would cruise the oceans, detect good plankton concentrations and draw and pump in such plankton soup, filter out the water, and produce a thick organic mass. At night time, this process could even be improved, as masses of zooplankton would be attracted by light and concentrate at the ship.

Next, such mass would be passed along a production line and manufactured into various fish, shellfish, and even meat-like products, which would taste exactly like the old-time fish, chicken, etc. Thus, for example, we would obtain salmon steaks, cod fish fingers for our fish-and-chips dishes, sashimi, and even the popular Jewish gefilte fish. The whole process will be automatic, truly without human intervention. Linked to a worldwide network, remote orders will arrive telling the ships' processing systems what varieties are required on the markets.

With adequate numbers of plankton ships, landings would be much higher than in the old times, when fishermen used to catch and land the old-time fish and shellfish. Problems of course may appear, if for example green organisations complain and campaign about the bycatch of krill needed to support the few surviving non-predatory whales.

Plastic collector-converter ship

Recently, an assessment survey was initiated of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). For the information of the uninformed, GPGP is an area that the size has been estimated as between that of Texas up to twice the size of the continental United States (thank you, Wikipedia). The GPGP is composed of plastics of all sizes, from large containers to microscopic particles – a threat to marine life mistaking them for food, from over the North Pacific Ocean, from North America to Japan, trapped in the rotating currents of North Pacific Gyre. Another technical problem, says my futurist. Imagine automated ships directing themselves to plastic accumulations, pumping in surface water, filtering out its plastic contents and processing it into reusable plastic mass. Simple, isn't it?

Need any more bright ideas? Just ask…