New underwater cameras provide fish farms on Vancouver Island with real-time salmon data
Grieg Seafood BC Ltd. introduced nine camera sensors to its fish farms along the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island.
Designed by OptoScale, a Norwegian technology company, the sensors and software enable real-time analysis of fish biomass and well-being.
So far, Grieg Seafood has said the only way to get accurate data on the growth and performance of farmed salmon populations is through harvest.
The cameras offer a new ability to measure a fish’s size with up to 98% accuracy, allowing “our farmers to make better decisions about feeding, harvesting schedules and estimating.” biomass, ”said Rocky Boschman, Managing Director of Grieg Seafood BC.
“Overfeeding can have environmental impacts, but also affects our sustainability goals, as feed production is one of the main contributors to our overall carbon footprint,” he said. “By feeding ourselves more efficiently, we will help reduce accidental overfeeding, reduce our carbon footprint and support the growth and performance of our fish. “
Grieg Seafood BC is part of the Norwegian multinational Grieg Group and operates 22 fish farms in the province. Licensed to produce 23,400 tonnes of salmon per year in North American and Asian markets, Grieg has 49 employees working on its farms on the west coast of Vancouver Island. While six farms are located in Nootka Sound and four in Esperanza Inlet, only six are currently active.
The cameras have been shipped from Norway and will be installed upon arrival in Canada, said Amy Jonsson, communications manager for Grieg Seafood BC.
Of the nine units, two of them will focus on assessing the state of fish populations. These welfare modules will enable farmers to identify and monitor injury, fish maturation, fin damage and downscaling on individual fish within farming systems. They will be used on a trial basis on farms in the Nootka region, as farmers become more familiar with the technology and analyzing real-time data, Jonsson said.
The other seven cameras will help anticipate harvest schedules by allowing farmers to read the biomass of fish. Traveling together as a single unit between the 22 farms, Jonsson said the cameras would determine the weight of the fish, while also giving the farmers a sense of whether more or less food was needed.
“We are constantly looking for ways to improve our operations, reduce our impacts, and support the overall health and performance of wild and livestock populations,” said Boschman.
Global demand for fish is expected to almost double by 2050, according to OptoScale, which will be met mainly through the increase in aquaculture.
“All industries have an environmental footprint, and the aquaculture industry could be the engine of sustainable food production in the future,” a company spokesperson said.
Open pen fish farms are criticized by some scientists who claim they transfer dangerous amounts of sea lice to wild populations, thus contributing to the collapse of wild stocks in British Columbia. As wild juvenile salmon migrate past fish farms, many fear they are particularly vulnerable to parasites that wreak havoc on their immune systems, increasing their risk of disease.
In 2020, the First Nations Leadership Council called for an end to all open pen salmon farming in the province.
“We have known for years that net-pen salmon farming is one of the main contributors to the massive decline in wild salmon stocks in this province,” said the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations of the British Columbia, Terry Teegee. “The federal and provincial governments have taken a piecemeal approach to this problem, with long delays in transitioning to closed pens, and only in a few places. We must end salmon farming in our open oceans now to protect both wild salmon and indigenous livelihoods from extinction. “
At the end of December, Grieg announced an additional investment of $ 11 million per year to reduce the number of sea lice on its farms around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
The company has entered into a three-year contract with Njord Marine Service Ltd. for the use of a 24-meter multipurpose vessel equipped with a mechanical delousing system.
“Sea lice remain one of the biggest issues, and the new vessel and the SkaMik 1.5 system are a welcome addition to our toolkit,” said Boschman. “Not only does the system eliminate over 97% of sea lice at all stages of the life cycle, it doesn’t use any drugs or chemicals. It captures the lice that are removed for elimination on land, thus reducing the overall lice population in the area. “
In a recent mandate letter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on new Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to continue working with British Columbia and Indigenous communities on an open park salmon farm transition plan ‘by 2025.
Although Boschman said Grieg does not have immediate plans to move to terrestrial fish farming in British Columbia, operational changes towards improving innovation and technology will “minimize, mitigate and address possible impacts” on livestock and wild populations.
“British Columbia’s wild salmon face many challenges as we see ocean ecosystems continue to change due to the impacts of climate change, rising ocean temperatures, urbanization, ancient practices. logging, microplastics and the ocean industry, ”said Boschman. “Growing global demand for seafood is also raising concerns and the ability of wild stocks to be able to meet this increase as many commercial fisheries, such as salmon, reach or exceed sustainable limits. “
To meet these challenges and support the return of wild salmon populations, Boschman said “we will all have to work together.”
“It will take everyone to work together, share knowledge and push for improvements so that we can see the change required,” he added.
Salmon farming is still a young industry, Boschman said.
“We keep learning, adapting and improving as we go,” he said. “The farms of tomorrow will continue to innovate and make what is currently unachievable or impossible, very possible. “