The ongoing positive growth trend of the aquaculture industry continues, reflecting the rising demand for healthy human food products. Availability of sustainable ingredients in fish feeds is crucial to maintain the increasing demand of the aquaculture industry and the consumers. In FutureEUAqua, resilient fish, efficient in utilizing sustainable innovative tailor-made diets are developed.
European aquaculture production has reached 1.3 million tonnes in volume with a value of over 4 billion euro (EU-28 member states). Of this amount, 4% is certified as organic, amounting in 2015 to a total of approximately 50,000 tonnes (Lembo and Mente, 2019). Nevertheless, significant bottlenecks present in organic farming need to be overcome in order to maintain this positive trend. In 2015, EU consumers spent 54 billion euro for buying fisheries and aquaculture products, reaching the highest amount ever recorded (EUMOFA, 2017).
However, Europe is still heavily dependent on external markets to cover this demand. Thus, EU aquaculture needs to increase the competitiveness of its products and respond to consumer demands for high-quality and safe food, in a challenging context of climate change, greater competition for natural resources, and conflicting interests for space and markets. To ensure food and nutrition security by 2030, the food production sectors have to sustainably expand in terms of space use, production and new value chains, exploring and enhancing innovation opportunities offered by sustainable and resilient aquaculture production systems, implementing the circular economy principles and increasing social acceptance of the corresponding activities and products.
Today, the European Commission published the much-anticipated Organic Action Plan. The FutureEUAqua project supports the Commission’s intentions to reinforce organic aquaculture in Europe.
In “Action 17”, the Commission lists important paths for reinforcing organic aquaculture from 2022. They are:
Starting in 2022, the Commission intends to:
support research and innovation on alternative sources of nutrients, breeding and animal welfare in aquaculture; the promotion of investments on adapted polyculture and multi-trophic aquaculture systems; and the promotion of hatcheries and nurseries activities for organic juveniles; and
FutureEUAqua’s project coordinator, Åsa Espmark, says that she welcomes and supports the initiative on behalf of the project consortium.
«Based on our previous work in the OrAqua project, and present work in FutureEUAqua, the Commission’s points are in line with what we regard as important bottlenecks for the further development of organic aquaculture in Europe,» Espmark says.
In the following partner interview, we asked Galaxidi Marine Farm to tell their story. Here is what they had to say.
Please introduce your company
Galaxidi Marine Farm (GMF), established in 1987 near the town of Galaxidi in Central Greece, stands amongst the oldest and most successful aquaculture companies in Greece. It is a vertically integrated company, operating two hatcheries (one of which dedicated to the production of organic seabass and seabream juveniles), six unit farms (one of which dedicated to organic production) and one state of the art packaging & processing station. The main species produced are Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata), European Seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and Meagre (Argyrosomus regius) while continuous efforts to fully integrate new, promising species such as the Greater Amberjack (Seriola dumerili) are being made through the company’s participation in pioneering National and European funded programmes. Ninety-eight per cent (98%) of the company’s production is exported, to countries including Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Austria and more. In order to live up to the high-quality standards of its customers, the company holds a number of certifications regarding product quality, food safety, organic production etc (listed below).
EN ISO 9001:15 – EN ISO 22000:05 – BIO E.U. – BIO HELLAS E.U. – BIO NATURLAND:20 – GLOBALG.A.P.:19 – IFS FOOD:17 – ASC SSM:19 – MSC CoC:19 (ASC CoC) – FISH FROM GREECE:19
The company participates in a number of National and European funded programmes, and we, the people of the R&D department, are tasked with day-to-day management of those programmes, from financial reporting to coordinating and performing samplings. Our team consists of highly educated and continuously trained ichthyologists and biologists, ensuring the scientific integrity of the procedures. In addition to the State and European funded programmes, the R&D department is responsible for managing an in-house breeding program in collaboration with the Animal Breeding & Genomics Centre of the Institute Wageningen UR Livestock Research.
Importance of participating in Horizon 2020 projects?
The company from its early days displayed an orientation towards innovation, being pioneer in adopting new technologies such as AKVA automatic feeding system, Marel and Thema systems for fish weighing, grading and batching, Aqua manager software etc. Since the DIVERSIFY project (2013-2018), the company is actively pursuing its involvement in Horizon 2020 programmes as it acknowledges that investing in scientific research is pivotal for the development and adaptation of the industry.
Being a member of consortia such as those assembled at H2020 programmes, consisting of scientists renowned in their respective fields, and companies leading at a worldwide level, provides the company with the competitive edge as it is the end user to most of the outputs and innovations produced, be it novel aquafeeds, reproduction management techniques, monitoring systems and many more.
What are your main challenges and how can the project contribute to overcome these?
There are many challenges that the European aquaculture industry is facing and most of them apply to our company as well. Some of them are staying competitive at a global level, adapting as early as possible to the need for sustainably produced aquafeeds at the face of fragile aquatic ecosystems, responding to climate change, diversifying the production with integration of new species and products, staying up to date with the constant technological advances benefitting production, coping with availability of production space and more. FutureEuAqua addresses each of the aforementioned challenges, in dedicated Tasks and Subtasks of certain Work Packages.
Galaxidi Marine Farm (GMF) can benefit from consulting deliverables from all the WPs, but is even more involved and aware about the subjects of the WPs that is actively participating in. These are the development of novel, sustainable organic aquafeeds (WP2), that will suit its needs and perform equally or even better with even less environmental impact, and the development of innovative processing and packaging solutions (WP6), in order to increase the quality and shelf life of the final product.
The Hellenic Centre for Marine Research and the University of West Attica have focused on developing methodologies and tools for the non-destructive assessment of quality of fish products.
Specifically, this task involves:
Building a prototype device for testing commercially available fish using a specific test protocol and logging relevant test data.
Developing novel algorithms for assessing test data in order to evaluate texture (and hence freshness) of tested fish.
Performing lab as well as large-scale testing in industrial environment to validate the device operation and results and undertake device/ algorithmic modifications if needed.
Undertaking process for IP protection of the device
Up to this point, a novel algorithmic operational framework for fish texture evaluation has been recently proposed and published*. This framework postulates a purposely-designed testing protocol applicable to fish products, which combines a vibration-like non-destructive loading of fish under assessment with detailed guidelines for analyzing the fish response data collected from testing.
The outcome allows for quantifying specific parameters related to springiness and viscoelasticity of fish flesh, which, in turn, translates into freshness assessment of tested fish. Published results show that definitive textural changes may be quantified between two fish batches stored in ice for different time intervals (1 and 5 days, respectively). Besides, further testing showed distinction between fish bought on the same day and stored for few hours in different temperatures. This is a promising indication that the same tool may be used for distinguishing among fish batches those exposed to abusive temperature conditions.
*D. Dimogianopoulos and K. Grigorakis, Effective algorithmic operational framework for fish texture evaluation in industry: Achieving maturity, Aquaculture and Fisheries, October 16, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aaf.2020.10.001
Figure: Detail of the prototype device during testing
Young men from the UK are more negative towards aquaculture, according to a recent consumer study conducted across five European countries. They were also among those with the least knowledge about aquaculture.
“Young people between the ages of 18 and 34 eat the least fish and have the most negative perceptions about aquaculture. Therefore, it is most interesting for us to reach this target group with more information,” says Pirjo Honkanen. She is the director for market research at Nofima, the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture research.
2500 randomly selected people from the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany answered an online survey last year. This autumn, another 500 people from each of the five countries will be surveyed to assess whether information campaigns in social media affect the level of knowledge.
“Sustainability is the focus of the entire project. Producers are investing in order to make seafood production more sustainable, and then there is the question of whether consumers are aware of this and acknowledge it. It will be very exciting to check whether the knowledge, attention and acceptance of aquaculture increases during this project”, says Pirjo Honkanen.
The consumer study is part of the project called FutureEUAqua, where research is conducted on everything from genetics, feed development, process development and packaging, to consumer studies. FutureEUAqua receives funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme.
An aim of the project is to increase the knowledge and awareness of how seafood production takes place, especially fish farming. The results from the consumer study will therefore input to an information campaign directed at European citizens.
“We asked the respondents to rank where they would prefer to receive such messages, and in what form. Based on the answers we received, we are going to concentrate our communication around social media, especially Instagram and Twitter,” says senior researcher Themis Altintzoglou.
European citizens will, for instance, learn about four methods of aquaculture:
Conventional farming, which accounts for the vast majority of production.
Organic farming, where, for example, there are strict regulations regarding the number of fish permitted in the net pens, feed and the use of medication.
RAS – Recirculating aquaculture systems – basically onshore facilities that are completely closed and emissions are cleaned.
IMTA – Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture. These are facilities that hold several species at the same time which can utilise each other’s waste materials. For example, mussels, seaweed and kelp in addition to salmon. In theory, this is a natural way to produce fish, but such facilities are very few since it is difficult to obtain permits allowing several species to be kept together in farming.
The project will develop campaigns in the form of short videos that will be posted on social media in the different countries. The posts will guide the audience to a website containing more information.
“Our goal is to be more transparent about the topic and inform, not to sell. The website will present easy-to-read and understandable information based on research from the project. In addition, they will also be able to access the more detailed reports. We hope to inspire the consumer to seek more knowledge about the subject,” says Themis Altintzoglou.
The fish farming industry needs instruments that can monitor in real time fish health and welfare objectively, without killing or disturbing the fish or interfering with the daily management. The main aim to exploit the potential of Internet of Things (IoT) is to contribute to the development of sustainable and resilient aquaculture systems that ensures profitability, maintains healthy aquatic ecosystems and strengthens capacity for adaptation to climate change.
In the framework of the FutureEUaqua project, COISPA is committed to develop and test a multiplatform tracking system for simultaneously monitoring the activity and physiology of fish, as well as the main parameters of the environment where they are farmed, by using a wireless communication system. The study of aquatic animals (eg fish behaviour, condition, physiology) and the farming environment presents unique challenges to scientists because of the physical characteristics of water.
Enhanced environmental (e.g. oxygen, temperature, salinity, pressure) and biological (e.g. behaviour, activity, energetic, feeding physiology) sensor data, collected by a network of wireless electronic sensors, can provide accurate fine-scale measurements of environmental conditions, fish health, welfare and habitat use, average fish size and biomass, thus facilitating predictive modelling of the rearing performances and impacts.
The real-time wireless communication system and sensor network for the large-scale FutureEUAqua demonstration activities have been defined. The real-time wireless communication system and sensor network envisaged for the FutureEUAqua large scale demonstration activities includes a cloud platform that communicates wireless underwater, based on the technology offered by Real-time aquaculture (www.rtaqua.com) and a family of compact, submersible environmental sensors, with underwater and in-air wireless communications. This technology enables data-driven ocean farming where knowledge drives better decisions. The system architecture is shown here:
Progress in the testing of physiological sensors technologies
Understanding the impacts of environmental change and human activity on farmed fish can be greatly enhanced by using electronic sensors. Enhanced biological (e.g. behaviour, activity, energetic, feeding physiology) sensor data, collected by on-board electronic tags provide accurate fine-scale measurements of fish health and welfare during the large-scale demonstration activities in the project.
Before the large-scale demonstration, we firstly needed to establish a baseline of information for each of the target species, i.e. for gilthead seabream and seabass.
The objective was to find a calibration model of the tailbeat tag activity as a function of the i) critical swimming speed, ii) oxygen consumption and metabolic rate, iii) electromyograms. Less availability of anaerobic energetic reserves has consequences for the reactivity of stress systems, reflecting on a reduced ability of the fish to compensate stressful events.
The calibration tests provided us a model to assess fine-scale measurements of the fish physiological state and the ability to cope with stressful events.
In the telemetry laboratory at COISPA the swimming chambers are used to measure the physiological performances of fish. Click on a photo to see it in full size. All photos: COISPA
During these tests, in addition to other metabolic parameters, it is possible to measure the swimming ability, the energy budget available to face the challenges, the oxygen consumption, the recruitment of the red and white muscles (aerobic/anaerobic activity).
The fish is placed in a tube where the speed of the water can be adjusted, forcing the fish to swim upstream in different speed. Watch it here at slow and fast speds.
Development of biomass estimation sensing system
Fish biomass estimation is one of the most common and important practices in aquaculture. The relationship between the shape of the fish and the mass is well known. The mass of the fish is calculated from its geometric measurements using empirical relationships that depend on the species and condition of the fish.
Recent, rapid technological enhancements in video cameras improved the utility and accuracy of biomass assessment in cage aquaculture by means of stereovision.
The system tested in the laboratory of the University of Thessaly is based on stereovision and provides a way to accurately measure fish in their cages in a non-invasive manner and without the need to physically access the off-shore installation. At the same time, this is achieved utilizing easily accessible, but highly capable, modern, “off-the-shelf” hardware thereby driving the overall costs of such an installation down.
The system, illustrated below, consists of a stereo camera encased in a waterproof housing, a gateway device and an on-shore endpoint computer. Normal video and depth data are periodically captured by the camera and transmitted via wire to the gateway device situated above the surface of the water, on the rim of the cage. This data is later transmitted wirelessly to shore where it is further processed before finally being utilized by the user software to acquire the desired measurements.
In this EAS podcast from 3 April, Tamás Bardócz (AquaBioTech Group, Malta), Åsa Maria O. Espmark (NOFIMA, Norway), and Antti Kause (Luke, Finland) discuss the latest developments in the interacting fields of digital information technology, genomics and circular economy applied in farm management and monitoring, fish nutrition, feeding and selective breeding. These topics are developed together with the industry and researchers in the three Horizon 2020 EU-projects, AquaIMPACT, FutureEUAqua and iFishIENCi, funded under the topic ‘Sustainable European Aquaculture 4.0: Nutrition and Breeding Innovations’.