iFarm a technological leap forward for salmon aquaculture

Published on
November 30, 2017

iFarm, a new salmon farming concept developed by BioSort in conjunction with fish farming company Cermaq, is one step closer to becoming a reality. 

The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries has declared iFarm to be within the scope of its development license system, under which Cermaq has submitted applications for 10 licenses to implement the new technology, and take it from research phase to a viable system.

According to Harald Takle, technology research director and project manager for iFarm, the company hopes to hear the result of their application by the end of this year.

iFarm is an individual fish-based system and is a technological leap forward in the development of cage farming. Cermaq Norway Managing Director Knut Ellekjær told SeafoodSource he believes that it will make a significant contribution in easing the spatial challenges that aquaculture is facing.

“It would be very advantageous if we could further develop salmon farming within the current inshore site structure and preserve and strengthen Norway's advantage as a salmon producer,” he said.

Cermaq believes that iFarm can also solve many of the health and welfare challenges that currently restrict growth in salmon farming, such as sea lice and disease.

"We are pleased to get the opportunity to develop iFarm, an innovative technology that will strengthen the entire industry,” Ellekjær said. “iFarm will effectively reduce the need for sea lice treatment and will enable us to bring fish welfare to a new level by individually monitoring each fish in the pen.”

iFarm will initially be developed to work with Cermaq’s standard 160-meter circumference circular fish pens, which hold between 150,000 and 200,000 salmon.  However, its designers say that it will also be applicable to land-based closed cycle systems.

Within each fish pen is a sensory sorting chamber that will monitor fish as they swim through. A new configuration of the pen will facilitate a pass-through by each salmon at least once per week, when it heads to the surface to fill its swim bladder.

Advanced sensors, equipped with BioSort vision recognition and sorting technology, will identify individual salmon by the dot pattern on their skin. Over time, this allows the farmer to build up a full picture of each fish, including its growth rate and condition factor, along with the presence of sea lice, disease or lesions.

Any deviation from an expected pattern indicates a potential issue and the fish will be guided into a separate area for diagnostic work and individual treatment. 

“We know that sea lice are very unevenly distributed amongst the fish, and this system enables us to avoid mass lice treatments,” Ellekjær said. “Similarly, we can sort salmon on the basis of weight and remove only those fish ready for harvest, without stressing the others.”

Takle believes that tackling the biological challenges of salmon farming are crucial if the industry is to develop in a sustainable way. 

“iFarm is based on biological competence and has many parallels in agriculture and the wider food sector. Digitization and machine learning make it possible to monitor salmon without handling or causing stress, which makes it an important tool for safeguarding the fish and a giant leap for fish farming,” Takle said. 

BioSort Chief Executive Officer Geir Stang Hauge is also excited by the project and eager to get started.

“In the future there will be stricter requirements for fish farming and we see iFarm as an effective tool in reducing its environmental impact as well as enhancing fish welfare,” he said. 

iFarm is expected to take six years to develop into a fully operational system. The anticipated licences from Norway’s Department of Fisheries are offered on an incentive basis, and will allow Cermaq to produce more fish during this time, with the profit used to pay development costs.

“We have all the information necessary to create a prototype to go into the water, and are confident that it will work, but it will take several years to fully develop the technology and commercialise the system,” Takle said.

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