We certainly have a global food challenge exacerbated by environmental concerns. But can new technology such as artificial intelligence, machine vision and 5G networks help us find a solution? Norwegian salmon farming company Cermaq has launched its first of its kind iFarm project. This five-year experiment will run through 2025 with technical partners BioSort and ScaleAQ, to better understand how technology can optimize fish farming operations. Others in the industry are also testing solutions to better optimize fish production.
Individualized approach to salmon farming
One of the benefits of using technology in salmon farming is that it allows for an individualized approach to support the health and development of each fish. In the past, if there was a lice outbreak in a fish population, which is a common problem in salmon farming, all fish would be treated. However, this parasite does not attack every fish in the same way. Being able to identify which fish needs handling rather than treating each fish in the system helps reduce overall stress from unnecessary handling.
Like the health needs of a fish, machine vision can identify and track the nutritional needs of individual fish in the coop. The technology recognizes individual fish in the system by their unique markings and can then track if and when they last fed to take good care of them. This ability to adapt the care of each fish represents a quantum leap for the aquaculture industry and can also ensure that fish are only harvested when the time comes.
Each iFarm system has 150,000 fish trapped in nets in the sea. With the iFarm system, the fish are kept lower in the pen by using a net roof. When a fish stands up to refill its air bladder, it is guided through a chamber where a sensor scans, recognizes and records data about that particular fish.
The sensors and internet of things devices automatically process images to recognize fish and then pass data to artificial intelligence algorithms that analyze the data. These data points include everything from weight and development to signs of illness or wounds. All of this data can then be reported to simplify management of the iFarm system and enable data-driven decision-making.
Cermaq’s goal is to strengthen fish farming in coastal areas, as the future of Norwegian fish farming depends on finding sustainable and cost-effective production. The company was granted four development licenses for the project and it has become a collaboration between many people and entities to get to this stage, which releases the first smolt in the lofts.
Consistency of a 5G network makes the technology possible
There has been a lot of talk about the super-fast speeds of the 5G mobile network, not only for consumer needs such as incredible download speeds for movies, but also for the transformative impact it can have on industries. In aquaculture, the fish identification that takes place through internet of things devices and the data flows back to fisheries management is powered by 5G. In contrast, submarine fiber optic cable is difficult to maintain. The introduction of 5G enables high-performance cameras and data feeds that power the technology of fishing.
Another 5G pilot program took place at the Scottish Sea Farms salmon farm, when internet-connected sensors collected data on seawater temperature, pH, oxygen and more in the salmon cages. Optimizing salmon farms is critical as it is Scotland’s largest food export and makes a significant contribution to the UK’s national economy.
Alphabet dives in
Google’s parent company Alphabet and its X research team (formerly known as Google X) are working with fish farms in Europe and Asia on a project they call Tidal. Tidal is developing another fish identification system. As with Cermaq’s iFarm project, underwater cameras, computer vision and artificial intelligence track salmon and yellowtail. AI can track fish as they develop and distinguish individual fish from subtle differences in shapes and movements that are imperceptible to the human eye. The ultimate goal of the technology is to evolve towards more sustainability.
These projects are critical to learning how artificial intelligence, machine vision and learning, and 5G can change aquaculture. Since they are still in the early stages and the systems are complex, it is expected that there will be a great opportunity to learn and grow, resulting in better results and sustainability in the future.