Offshore Farming - No Longer a Novelty

Offshore Farming - No Longer a Novelty HEM Europe came to a close with a visit to a farm. Photo: Bonnie Waycott
Industry Database

Speakers and attendees from more than 20 countries came together to discuss the full process of farming offshore and share their insights as High Energy Mariculture 2018 covered every aspect of offshore farming from technology and site selection to insurance, legislation and innovation, reports Bonnie Waycott.

Presentations and discussions at the event in Corfu, organised by Mercator Media and sponsored by Fitco S.A, highlighted the positive developments and prospects of aquaculture in the open sea. Offshore farming is seen by many as a critical food sector amid increasing global demands for seafood. According to the Federation of Greek Maricultures, in 2017, 63% of seafood harvested in Greece came from aquaculture. Greece is now emerging as a key player in the European mariculture industry, with aquaculture production expected to rise to over 200,000 tonnes by 2030.

Farming offshore is also seen as an environmentally sustainable way of increasing seafood production. Jon Espilla of EMEA, Badinotti Group S.p.A gave reasons for moves to the open sea, such as conflicts among stakeholders (such as tourism and fisheries) and a lack of suitable sites on land. Vasilis Gontzes, General Manager of conference sponsor Fitco S.A is also a firm believer in offshore farming for food security and economic development, but indicated that success will depend on specialised equipment such as robust cages, moorings and nets that can cope with more dynamic conditions.

Conference chairman Langley Gace discussed such conditions in more detail. During his welcome and keynote address, the Senior Vice President of InnovaSea Systems Inc. described the unpredictable seas off Panama and Hawaii, and challenged the audience to use the term 'open ocean' rather than offshore, due to the prejudice that offshore has of being related to distance. Critical success factors for open ocean farms were also noted, including the need for capital, careful site selection, a species that can be marketed and sold, high quality feed, good fish health and skilled staff.

Speakers at the conference were keen to build on this picture of success by introducing technology that can maximise productivity and withstand turbulent waters. A range of examples was presented, from Badinotti Group's new submersible fish pen Oceanis III to Copper Alloy Mess (CAM). Having evaluated parameters in fish including growth and mortality rates, a study presented by Dr. Panagiotis Efstathiou, Scientific Consultant at the Hellenic Copper Development Institute showed that copper alloy cages offer a clean environment for fish and reduce maintenance costs.

Learning from metal

How can a new industry like aquaculture learn from a traditional industry such as metal, and what would the new industry need to grow sufficiently? Highlighting the successful partnership between aquaculture and industries such as brass, Daniel Steitz, Head of Aquaculture at Wieland Group, attempted to answer these questions.

"Aquaculture is still very young, so we say from our experience in the metal industry that we can apply our process and automation to aquaculture and even take out steps that are not needed. For example, instead of changing netting after every production cycle, cages made with our brass net material can be used for several cycles," he said.

With simple technology, a lot can be done in very little time. This was the message from Darko Lisac, CEO of Ref Med Srl, who presented a sea bream rearing project at the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, which uses submerged cages on a sloping seabed in a highly exposed location. The cages depend on the force of ocean currents and the strength of waves. By allowing the cages to flex and absorb marine forces, no human intervention is required for submersion. Incremental changes, or little things that can be done each day to improve production, will lead to long-term sustainability, echoed Yannis Papadopoulos of Corfu Sea Farm.

Under the umbrella of sustainability is a number of fields such as the environment, food safety and animal welfare, all of which customers are likely to question in order to understand the value of their products and where those products are coming from. "Certification is one part of the solution when it comes to adding value," said Sun Brage, Communication Manager at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

"It's a continued promotion and initial transparency of your product which will increase the value of your entire supply chain," she said.

There are also other ways to add value. Turkey has huge potential for aquaculture development, but although the industry is growing fast, seafood consumption remains low at 8% per capita consumption. The Turkish government is planning to increase this figure by focusing on aquaculture and increasing production in the sector amidst decreasing or stagnating production in fisheries. Iceland, meanwhile, has seen a significant increase in the value of exported Icelandic seafood over the last two decades, thanks to extensive research by fishing industries, governments and universities into processes such as handling, shipping and packaging. This has established valuable knowhow that focuses on high product quality. Innovations such as new trawlers with chill rooms and automatic cutting machines are also helping to maximise profit.

The prospects of offshore farming may seem high, but speakers and delegates were also aware of risk, and the need for solid management in this field. Cedric Audor of Guian SA's Aquaculture Department touched on the challenges offshore, including predation, collisions, mechanical breakdowns and theft. Introducing Guian's aquaculture policy AquaSecure, he stressed the importance of insurance to secure corporate social responsibility and guarantee that farms can continue operating. Legislation and licensing were also acknowledged. Development can only take place when there is a strong regulatory and legal environment for offshore farming, said Katherine Hawes, Principal Solicitor and Barrister at Aquarius Lawyers in Australia.

Key activity for Greece

Rational thinking in the context of a legal framework can also create profitable, innovative and high energy businesses, according to Ioanna Argyrou of consulting firm NAYS Ltd. Describing Greece's aquaculture as a key activity in the country's primary sector, she listed several factors to consider when establishing an offshore farm including local environment and navigational routes, and the steps taken for a marine aquaculture project to be approved in Greece.

Tyler Sclodnick, Senior Scientist at InnovaSea Systems Inc. talked delegates through geospatial analysis in high energy and low energy sites to predict where and how growth might happen. By looking at what technology might be prominent in a given region, it becomes possible to look at what sites might be the most effective, he explained.

With offshore aquaculture in the spotlight, there will be an increasing need for hatcheries so farms have quality fingerlings whenever required. According to INVE Aquaculture's Patrick Lavens, fry quality prevails because it affects farm performance and growth rate. To that end, hatcheries today are seeing dramatic improvements through selective breeding and next generation sequencing that can help identify genetic markers. These markers can then be used to select genomic information that is of value for breeding programmes. IT infrastructure for better monitoring and analyses, the ability to assess fry quality early and control over production parameters and feeding protocols also offer high quality to the fry market with good profit margins, while innovations like automatic vaccination machines are improving fish health through precise injections and doses.

It was clear during the conference that people are positive about offshore aquaculture. Indeed, in his closing remarks Langley Gace was keen to emphasise the benefits, including little to no benthic impact and less stakeholder conflict. But success depends on various areas. Risk mitigation and risk understanding were often mentioned, along with the need to work with the insurance industry, while adding and maximising value can bring significant benefits.

"The state of open aquaculture is very good," he said. "We are doing it. It is not a novelty anymore."


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