The challenge of rising fish feed and sea lice costs is stimulating new sustainable technology solutions in Norwegian aquaculture. In the future, producers might raise salmon in egg-shaped offshore farms.
|Up to 1,000 salmon can be raised in Hauge Aqua's new Egg closed containment aquaculture system. Source: Hauge Aqua
“Is 30 the New 20 for Good?” That was the price dilemma posed by SalMar chief executive Leif Inge Nordhammer in his presentation during Seafood Norway’s annual Aquaculture Conference in Oslo this past November. It currently costs NOK 10 more per kilo to produce salmon, half of which comes from higher feed prices. The other major contributor is sea lice-related costs.
The cost of treating the fish parasite has risen roughly 50% in 2015 from about NOK 3 billion in 2014, mainly due to more expensive treatments, according to Audun Iversen, a Norwegian Food Research Institute (Nofima) scientist. That represents an average sea lice treatment cost of about NOK 4 per kilo in 2015, with some producers paying up to NOK 12 per kilo. The figure does not take into account costs related to low growth and poorer feed conversion ratio.
“I have heard some farmers spend like NOK 5-7 per kilogram for lice treatment,” says Norwegian Fish Oil chief executive Kjell Gunnar Lund. “Not mentioning the percentage of fish deaths that occur with such treatments. Many fish as well get affected by the treatment and get some skin damage and many other problems.”
|Functional fish feeds can be used to prevent sea lice attachmet. Source: EWOS/Paula Carvajal
Functional Fish Feed
Lund’s company has developed a way to tackle sea lice through an enhanced fish feed formula. The company’s initial intent was to boost the nutritional content of feed in order to reduce the amount needed per salmon, cut down on working costs and to help improve fish health. What Norwegian Fish Oil didn’t anticipate was that it could also help solve the sea lice problem.
Last year, the Trondheim-based company introduced a mineral supplement for salmon and trout on behalf of the Danish feed producer AllerAqua during fish experiments at Bomlø. In addition to getting healthier and heartier fish, the company found that the enhanced feed gave the fish a more slimy protective coating and thicker louse resistant skin. Just 4-6 weeks after the first experiment started, much lower lice content in test cages than control cages were noticed.
“We don’t claim our BioFeed Aqua Forte will kill or eliminate lice totally,” says Lund. “But we see better growth, much more slime, and that the fish seem to be more energetic. They also swim deeper in the cages, which is quite positive since lice eggs thrive in shallower waters. We also see the development of thicker skin which probably will decrease the lice’s ability to penetrate it. The BioFeed’s main effect is to activate the cells and to absorb the energy and nutrition from the food. It enhances growth and we believe it activates the natural immune system and creates better animal health.”
Another method to control sea lice is through closed cage farming, which is still only on an experimental level in Norwegian coastal waters. Since its establishment in 2015, Nofima and its partners at the Centre of Research-based Innovation in Closed-Containment Aquaculture (CtrlAQUA), have been working with research projects in land-based RAS and floating semi-closed containment systems at sea with Nekton Havbruk, FishGLOBE, Aquafarm Equipment, Lerøy Seafood Group’s Preline, MSC Aqua’s Aquadome, and Grieg Seafood, among others.
One Norwegian company that is close to getting a closed farming concept commercialized is Hauge Aqua. This February the company signed a development agreement with Marine Harvest, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon for a floating oval-shaped enclosed farm called, appropriately enough, “the Egg”. The proposed 44-meter tall structure will hold up to 1,000 tons of salmon, the same volume of fish as a regular 50-meter wide net pen.
“The biggest obstacle is robustness,” says Cato Lyngøy, Hauge Aqua technology director. “Farming offshore exposes the construction to enormous strain.”
The Egg’s closed sandwich construction keeps lice out, while stopping fish escapes. It will also reduce sea lice by getting water from 20 meters below the surface where lice are less likely to thrive. Moreover, the contained farm ensures more accurate automatic feeding in a closed environment, an upstream-water current that keeps pellets closer to the surface, and a separate intake and outflow of water that reduces infection pressure.
|The Egg is a closed farming concept by Hauge Aqua and Marine Harvest. Source: Hauge Aqua
As part of the agreement, Norway’s Marine Harvest has applied for 14 development concessions, which are being offered initially at no cost by the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs to stimulate new large-scale aquaculture technology that can solve the acreage and environmental challenges facing the industry (see separate article).
“We aim to offer a real and competitive alternative to the salmon farmers,” says Lyngøy. “This entails a simpler, more cost-effective and more sustainable way than conventional cage culture. Marine Harvest is leading the blue revolution. Adding its financial strength and in-depth competence empowers the project in so many ways. What is left is for us is to deliver.”
If the Norwegian authorities approve all 14 development concessions, Marine Harvest could invest up to NOK 600 million in the project. The company has planned a three-stage investment approach whereby the first will be a pilot Egg with a volume of 4,000 cubic meters, followed by a prototype of 20,000. Pending successful trials, Marine Harvest could have 10 egg units, each 20,000 cubic meters in size, operating in Norwegian coastal waters by 2018.
“We have seen a substantial rise in production costs the last years,” says Alf-Helge Aarskog, Marine Harvest chief executive. “This is mainly due to sea lice and escapees. This concept is very exciting. If we succeed, today’s challenges with sea lice and escapees will be history. Simultaneously, this lays the foundation for a sustainable growth along the coast.”
Read more in Norway Exports Seafood, Fishing & Aquaculture 2016/2017