Q&A: Aquaculture technology breakthrough?

By

Mercedes Grandin, SeafoodSource contributing editor

Published on
March 28, 2010

 A Holden, Maine-based company recently received a USD 13,000 (EUR 9,697) grant from the Maine Technology Institute to help it further develop and commercialize its new remote-sensing technology, which counts and measures farmed fish, as well as assesses the health of the fish. AXAT partners Cody Andrews, 23, and Valerie Robitaille, 25, both Maine Maritime Academy graduates, said the technology has the potential to change the global aquaculture industry.

SeafoodSource recently caught up with Robitaille to talk about the technology's potential.

Grandin: What's the idea behind AXAT?
Robitaille
: The concept behind AXAT stems from an academic research project conducted by myself to investigate the behaviors of light in shallow water environments. While experimenting with several laser systems, I realized it was possible to monitor specific physical properties of underwater organisms and suspended particles. With Cody, who is a marine system engineer, we recognized there was potential in the aquaculture industry for developing of a low cost monitoring system that could aid in fish- and food-management practices.

How will AXAT's technologies change the way fish are farmed?
AXAT's technology simultaneously records key parameters in hatching tanks with no sub-sampling or manipulation required. Our concept revolves around the use of processing algorithms based on discrete measurements instead of using more complex and traditional image processing methods. Our friendly user interface will take a lot of the guess work out of monitoring several fish-farming operations by offering precise, real time measurements of food concentrations, growth rates, fish mass estimates, etc. Linked to complementary devices such as mechanical feeding systems, we will be able to achieve an unprecedented level of automation in raising fish.

What does the laser technology reveal about the fish?
Since our system can provide information about the texture and pigmentation of organisms ranging from a few microns to several centimeters, the recorded data can be correlated to various variables of interests.

To this day, we are focusing our efforts on developing algorithms that can provide information about: the size and quantity of marine organisms in a body of water (finfish and shellfish larvae, juveniles and adults); the quantity, if any, of live feed in the water (Artemia and Rotifers); the concentration of suspended sediments in the water (waste, clay, etc.); and the fitness level of the marine organisms (we can keep track of their movements). The sensors of our system could also detect any changes in pigmentation or texture of the skin in fish or shellfish and could potentially be used to track early signs of abnormal parasite infection such as sea lice or other diseases.

How does your technology address the problems facing the aquaculture industry?
Attention in the United States is focused toward developing intensive fish-farming practices, which involves large numbers of organisms in confined spaces. This farming technique is challenging because of the amounts of food, water and medical resources needed to keep the organisms healthy. Intensive aquaculture has been criticized by a number of health and safety organizations for its impact on the environment. Our technology will offer better quality control of the aquaculture operations by optimizing the use of feed and labor resources in order to maintain a maximum number of livestock while reducing waste outputs and increasing the food conversion ratio.

When do you expect hatcheries to start using it?
Currently, we are working with the University of Maine's Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research to test our beta prototype. Our projected goal at the end of this funded period is to have a functioning beta prototype that will produce results with only minimal human input. The next step for AXAT will be optimizing the hardware and software components of the system and assess the capabilities of the device in commercial hatcheries facilities. We are hoping to reach this goal by fall 2010.

What are the company's goals for the future?
We are looking at expanding our technology to ocean and offshore farming facilities. Using a network of optic fibers and wireless data transfer techniques, our system could provide real time information about the status of fish in net pens or offshore cages, reducing the amount human presence required on the field. Also, by synchronizing our device with an automated feeding system mounted on an offshore fish cage, resources could be optimized and the environmental footprint reduced. Our next project also involves using our technology to develop a new kind of underwater imaging system, which could be useful for mariculture and catfish pond farming.

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