Salmon Aquaculture: cleaning up the sea lice

Salmon Aquaculture: cleaning up the sea lice Former bulk carrier Hellutangi has been equipped by JT electric with an eight-line Multi-Feeding System. Photo: JT electric

With sea lice still a significant problem for salmon farmers, aquaculture equipment supplier JT electric's integrated lumpfish feed system could offer an answer, reports Bonnie Waycott.

One of the biggest obstacles facing the salmon farming industry is sea lice, a naturally occurring parasite that feeds on the blood, tissues and protective mucus layer on the skin of salmon, resulting in lesions. This leaves the fish vulnerable to disease and secondary microbial infections, and in some cases sea lice may induce osmoregulatory dysfunction, reduced feeding and growth. There is also catastrophic damage commercially, as the fish can't be sold due to the lesions caused by parasites.

Lice infestations are a global problem on salmon farms as they limit industry growth and compromise sustainability. Chemical treatments such as hydrogen peroxide baths or pesticides are often used in a sea lice outbreak, but more and more salmon farmers are now turning to natural methods or biocontrols due to an increasing number of resistant lice, negative public perceptions, a reduced acceptance of chemical use in food production and the urgent need for salmon farming to establish an effective and sustainable method of parasite control.

Among the biocontrols that are drawing attention is using lumpfish as a cleaner fish to reduce sea lice by eating them off salmon. A key part of integrated programmes to control sea lice, lumpfish are quick to rear, easier to handle and cope better in cooler waters compared to other cleaner fish such as ballan wrasse.

When feeding lumpfish, the traditional way has been by hand or with small feeders with timers placed on the pen. But they can also be fed in pens from ship-type feeding barges. JT electric, a technical products and solutions supplier for the aquaculture industry based on the Faroe Islands, has recently developed such a barge.

"Lumpfish are particularly important today in controlling sea lice," said Kristian Andreasen, Head of Key Account Management at JT electric.

"They eat sea lice as a snack. Using lumpfish instead of medicine and other de-lousing methods is much more environmentally friendly and won't affect mortality numbers in salmon either."

Established in 1972, JT electric began by producing underwater lamps for the salmon farming industry before its overseas market began to expand. Today it produces feeding systems, cameras, lighting and automation systems as well as electrical installations. In 2013, it began converting ocean-going vessels into barges, and has been delivering around two a year ever since to Faroese salmon farmers Bakkafrost and HiddenFjord.

Earlier this year, JT electric also delivered one of the world's largest feeding barges to an extremely exposed fish farm in the Faroe Islands, operated by HiddenFjord. Equipped with a modern eight-line Multi-Feeding System, the barge is converted from a 79 metre bulk carrier with a feed capacity of 850 tonnes that can be easily upgraded to 1400 tonnes. The fully automated barge is able to feed both salmon and lumpfish through the same lines, with everything set up to be remotely operated from shore using desktops, tablets and smartphones, allowing changes to be made easily from anywhere.

The barge's lumpfish feeder is a software integrated feeding system and extension to the existing salmon feed system. Consisting of silos and flexible augers that run to sluices, all of the feeder's mechanical components are controlled by JT electric's software OceanManager, which stores all data including how many lumpfish are released over how many doses.Mortalities can be registered manually, while all lumpfish data exists parallel to salmon data.
The lumpfish feeder can also be built into any existing feed barge, with placement of the silo varying from barge to barge. The lumpfish are fed through the same blower, sluice, auger, selector valve, feed pipe and spinner as the existing salmon feed system (salmon feeding is paused when the lumpfish are being released). A typical number of lumpfish is 10% the amount of salmon. Lumpfish in the Faroe Islands are primarily imported from Iceland, while a lumpfish supplier is due to start up in the Islands and deliver its first batch soon.

"This latest barge is the third ship-design feeding barge that's been delivered to HiddenFjord, and the previously delivered barges also contain the integrated lumpfish and salmon feeding system," Kristian Andreasen said.

"Some older barges, both with Hiddenfjord and Bakkafrost, also have a lumpfish feeding system built into their existing feed systems. No parts have had to be changed. We have had one challenge – when building a feeder into an old feed system space can be a bit tight. But once installed, there are no issues whatsoever."

Positive feedback

With sensors to monitor oxygen, temperature and salinity, cameras for visual monitoring, control and maintenance systems, optimised feeding levels, fast data collection and export, JT electric's dual feeding system for salmon and lumpfish is pushing the company further in the field of technical equipment for aquaculture.

"We've received positive feedback mainly on two things," Kristian Andreasen added.

"With an automatic system, members of staff on site do not need to worry about releasing the lumpfish into the salmon pens. The biggest advantage with our solution is that when feeding the lumpfish through the same feed system from which salmon are fed, you are moving the lumpfish from the outskirts of the cages, where they usually eat, to the centre of the cages, where the salmon eat and where the sea lice problem actually is."

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