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Blue Revolution Center Pushes Aquaculture Farther Offshore

Marine Harvest and researchers plan to develop a floating laboratory for radical exposed fish farming technology to help the sector grow sustainably.

The Norwegian aquaculture industry has the potential to grow its production volumes five-fold from 2010 levels to 5 million tons by 2050. But it has been hindered lately by biological conditions. Norwegian salmon will increase only 2-4% in volumes this year to 1.2 million tons -- still below 2012 levels – partly because of sea lice, according to the Norwegian Seafood Council.  


“If there was a solution for sea lice, we could have grown with the given technology,” said Alf-Helge Aarskog, Marine Harvest chief executive during its third quarter results presentation this past November. “We will need radical new technology.”


Blue Revolution Centre
Marine Harvest, SINTEF Ocean, and NMBU are developing a new research platform, the Blue Revolution Center, to test new aquaculture technologies in exposes sites. Source: Marine Harvest


Offshore Research Barge


One potential answer is to move the industry further offshore to more exposed sites. Norway’s Marine Harvest, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, has joined forces with SINTEF Ocean and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) on developing a new research platform, the Blue Revolution Center, which will test new aquaculture technologies in the highly weather-exposed sites of Frøya.


As part of that vision, the trio has sought six technology-focused Research and Development licenses from the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate to build a dual laboratory-auditorium on a specially designed floating fish feed barge that could host up to 30 visitors and test new types of technology for raising salmon farther offshore. Marine Harvest currently has two of its most exposed fish farm sites nearby at Tennøya and Valøyan connected to the barge. In the future, the center could also be tied in to test Beck, a new type of subsea cage.


“This is to test technology that otherwise would not have been invented,” said Ragnar Joensen, Marine Harvest group manager technology. “Many of these new technology companies don’t have a place to test.”


“This is also an opportunity for universities to take students out to the fish, rather than just teach them in Trondheim or Oslo,” he added.


Among the different concepts that could be tested at the offshore lab are subsea fish feeding concepts with submerged hoses and condensed mooring systems. Currently most fish feeding occurs at the surface via long floating hoses, taking up much of the area from fishermen. Another research area is remote-operated subsea drones capable of swimming back and forth on a line. These could monitor fish swimming patterns and see, for example, if the fish are stressed after a delousing treatment.


“I think there is a lot of potential using drones,” said Bård Wathne Tveiten, SINTEF Ocean vice president. “You get real time indicators for fish welfare. You can change the operational conditions in an instant.”

Happy Fish


SINTEF Ocean will contribute with technology, IT and sensor competence, while Marine Harvest will be responsible for management and operations on this project. NMBU, which specializes on biology, health, veterinary medicine and bio production, will have a particular responsibility for research on fish welfare and health at the Blue Revolution Center. Genetics and breeding could be among the future research projects.


“There are many interesting areas,” said Øystein Lie, NMBU dean, in an NMBU article. “It could be relevant for example to exploit new brood stock in these aquaculture facilities, and perhaps create locally sourced feed for the facilities.”


The new research center could become a game changer for the development of new and innovative aquaculture concepts. This is a relatively new area for SINTEF Ocean at the Marine Technology Center, which has primarily focused on development, verification and advanced testing of oil and gas, offshore renewables, and maritime concepts, according to Tveiten.


The interest for advanced analyses and model testing in the aquaculture industry started a few years back after hurricane Berit pounded the west coast of Norway, damaging many fish cages and triggering fish escapes. Testing at the Blue Revolution Center would be even more relevant now as fish farmers push their cages farther out into more exposed waters and harsh environments to avoid sea lice infestations. Moreover, it would take place on the fish’s premises in their natural environment.


“The technology has to meet the biology at some stage,” said Tveiten. “We don’t have salt water (at SINTEF Ocean’s lab in Trondheim). The question is whether these are places where we have happy fish.”


Beck Cage for offshore fish farming
Marine Harvest plans to test the subsea Beck Cage for farming salmonSource: Marine Harvest. Source: Marine Harvest


Subsea Cages


The Blue Revolution Center’s technology Research and Development licenses are currently under consideration by the Fisheries Directorate. Separately, Marine Harvest submitted an application for six development licenses last year for testing up to five 100-meter long, spiral-shaped Beck cages. Each steel cage would hold up to 200,000 fish, totaling one million if all five are approved. The directorate has pledged to award free development concessions for up to 15 years to projects that promote technology that can solve the environmental and acreage challenges facing the aquaculture sector.


The Beck enclosed cage system could potentially stop salmon escapes and reduce sea lice by submerging the fish to louse-free zones. Sea lice typically thrive at the surface, which is a problem for the more conventional farms closer to shore. When biological conditions warrant, the Beck cage sinks the fish lower to reduce lice exposure. The cage can also be submerged for rough weather and wave conditions to protect the steel and net structure.  


Marine Harvest hopes to have tested five Beck cages over a six-year period starting with a prototype in 2018. The company has applied for four out of the more than 40 submitted development license applications, including the Egg, Marine Donut, and converted dry bulk carrier. Marine Harvest recently received an initial positive feedback for its egg-shaped closed cage system developed in partnership with Hague Aqua.


As of January, the directorate had fully approved two concepts under the development licenses: Salmar’s Ocean Farming, a deep sea-farming concept that resembles a floating petroleum platform, and Nordlaks’ ship-shaped Havfarm.

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