Ace Aquatec strives to “solve old aquaculture problems in a new way”

Published on
December 31, 2020

Ace Aquatec, winner of the 2019 Global Aquaculture Innovation Award, continued to leverage its industry partnerships and cutting-edge technologies in 2020 to do what it does best – accelerate the adoption of responsible marine practices.

Founded in 1999 by inventor John Ace Hopkins and investor Annette Pyne-Carte, the Dundee, Scotland-based aquaculture technology supplier is behind a decorated portfolio of innovations reflecting the values of the modern seafood farmer, who increasingly places a premium on animal welfare.

Current Ace Aquatec products include acoustic and electric predator deterrent systems, an underwater camera for precise biomass readings, and an in-water electric stunner, which humanely stuns finfish until the point of death. Additionally, the developer has turned its innovative eye toward sea lice removal, intent on delivering effectiveness while simultaneously lowering fish stress.

Supported with a grant from the Humane Slaughter Association, the endeavor is well underway, according to Ace Aquatec’s website, with the team testing and refining its first prototype.

All Ace Aquatec inventions, from its burgeoning sea lice removal venture to its industry-applauded Humane Stunner Universal, follow a common conceptual thread, Ace Aquatec Financial and Marketing Specialist Michelle Wildeboer told SeafoodSource.

“We try to take the latest innovations from any industry and apply them to aquaculture,” Wildeboer said. “If we see a breakthrough technology, that can often spark ideas for how we can solve old aquaculture problems in a new way.”

Navigating aquaculture’s more stubborn challenges has lead Ace Aquatec to partner with some of the largest farms in Scotland, Wildeboer said. Collaborations like these have inspired the innovator to investigate industry gaps where technology could make a difference, she added.

“By working together with our clients, we found that there is a need for, for example, an accurate underwater biomass measuring system, inspiring our BioCam 3D: an underwater camera that captures genuine 3D data to provide precise biomass readings,” Wildeboer said.

Ace Aquatec has customers throughout Europe, and has conducted installations in Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States. Mowi, New Zealand King Salmon, Grieg Seafood, Scottish Sea Farms, and Cooke Aquaculture are among the firm’s many industry partners.

A stunning success

Investigating norms within aquaculture and the slaughtering process has shaped several of Ace Aquatec’s creations used around the world, particularly its Humane Stunner Universal – the device that took home top honors at the Global Aquaculture Innovation Awards, organized by the Global Aquaculture Alliance, last year.

“Before we developed the Humane Stunner Universal, we looked at how fish were typically being slaughtered,” Wildeboer said. “Common processes such as air asphyxiation and ice baths not only caused high levels of stress within the fish, but also had a lot of room for improvement from an animal welfare point of view.”

Observing the dry stunning process gave the company added insight into how fish welfare and protein quality could be significantly improved by keeping the animals where they’re most comfortable: in the water, Wildeboer noted.

“During the dry stunning process, the fish are removed from water, which Stunner Universal is currently being used by one of our clients, who has doubled their processing speeds from 20 [metric tons] per hour to 40 [metric tons] per hour.”

The Humane Stunner Universal and Ace Aquatec have garnered increased international intrigue in the wake of recent accolades.

“Since winning the Global Aquaculture Innovation Award last year, we’ve had a lot more interest from farms in Asia, who were interested in improving the welfare standards of their operations. We’ve also received a lot of interest for stunning different species, such as tilapia and prawn,” Wildeboer said.

In addition to its Global Aquaculture Innovation Award, Ace Aquatec has also earned the 2017 Aqua Nor Innovation Award, the 2018 and 2019 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Innovation, and is a 2020 finalist for Supplier of the Year for the Scottish Marine Aquaculture Awards.

Adapt, survive, thrive

With a global pandemic raging, Wildeboer said the Ace Aquatec team remains committed to each other, the company’s partners, and the future.

“Like every other company, we’ve had to adapt to remote working as a result of the coronavirus crisis, but we were fortunate enough to keep our operations as good as normal,” she said. “Upon our move to remote working, we have set up a regional support network to ensure a quick response to our clients’ needs.”

For the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, the company plans on conducting more international installations of its stunning equipment and moving ahead with research and development into biomass measurement and sea lice treatment, Wildeboer said. More announcements from the firm can be expected later this year, she added.

Ace Aquatec’s international pursuits have been aided by an investment from Aqua-Spark, announced in November 2019. Aqua-Spark – an investment fund geared toward creating a “healthier, more sustainable, and more accessible aquaculture industry” – said the company’s values align well with the fund’s mission.

“Ace Aquatec’s focus on developing technologies for responsible farming is paramount to increasing animal welfare in aquaculture, and an important part of Aqua-Spark’s mission. We believe in Ace Aquatec’s impact potential and look forward to supporting the company as it develops more innovative products and continues to expand its reach,” Aqua-Spark Co-Founders Amy Novogratz and Mike Veling said in a joint statement announcing the funding.

Nathan Pyne-Carter, Ace Aquatec’s managing director, explained that the Aqua-Spark investment would allow the company to expand its operations across the globe; to increase its stock of rental equipment to better serve the needs of its expanding domestic and international rental customers; and to increase the number and scale of its R&D projects.

In July, tech entrepreneurs Chris Van der Kuyl and Paddy Burns – the duo behind the game development group 4J Studios, best known for producing the Minecraft Console edition – announced their own investment in Ace Aquatec. Pyne-Carter said the company would dedicate the funding from Burns and Van der Kuyl, who will be joining Ace Aquatec’s board, to growing its team and regional support network over the coming months.

“Aquaculture is set to grow even quicker post-COVID and is seen by many commentators as one of the key drivers to address the onset of a global food crisis. As the industry grows, we are helping our customers support their own growth with the most sustainable and ethical products in the market,” Pyne-Carter said. “Chris and Paddy’s experience growing digital businesses will be a significant asset to our team as we strive to blend the best of physical and digital technologies to help our customers produce environmentally sustainable seafood.”

“Paddy and I are delighted to invest in such a fantastic technology-, manufacturing-, and innovation-driven company,” Van der Kuyl added. “Ace Aquatec has shown phenomenal global growth and ambition and I hope we can help bring our technology expertise to this world-class organization. Investing alongside management and an aquaculture specialist investor in Aqua-Spark gives us cause for great optimism and excitement for future developments.”

Photo courtesy of Ace Aquatec

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