UK company, RS AQUA, is collaborating with Canada's Innovasea Marine Systems to improve the environmental profile of the aquaculture sector. RS AQUA was awarded £103,807 (US$146,900) in UKRI monies.
The project also includes Grieg Seafood Shetland as an unfunded industry partner.
Aquaculture, outlined the partners, is an important industry for sustainable protein production, with Atlantic salmon, in particular, known for having one of the lowest feed conversion ratios (FCR) of all protein sources.
However, aquaculture producers are continuously looking for solutions to improve the health, welfare, and productivity of their stock, while further reducing environmental impact of farm activities, they noted.
Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can contribute to higher incidences of disease and elevated mortality on fish farms, currently pose a challenge to these goals, said the partners.
"Under certain environmental conditions, microscopic algae or phytoplankton populations can become very large and form blooms. Not all phytoplankton are harmful, but some species produce harmful toxins, others deplete dissolved oxygen in the water, or have physical features that can damage fish gills, compromising their health. HABs are not only harmful to fish, but can also affect birds and mammals, including humans. A HAB in close proximity to a salmon farm can cause major problems for fish health and welfare and may result in high mortality, which is both economically and environmentally costly.
"Global warming may have contributed to an overall increase in HAB frequency and farmers are increasingly concerned about their ability to detect and mitigate these threats."
HAB monitoring is part of the daily routine for many aquaculture farmers, who want to have the best possible tools at their disposal, they said.
Innovasea and RS Aqua say they will take advantage of specialist expertise in fish health and data analytics at Scotland's Rural College, as part of this project. The team will develop an early warning system to notify fish farmers of potential and imminent HABs.
"By continuously monitoring the environmental conditions on and surrounding their farms, farmers will be informed when conditions that promote blooms are occurring in real-time, thus enabling them to respond quickly and take steps to reduce the impact of such events. Such a system will have far-reaching impacts for the aquaculture industry and advance the methods of HAB monitoring, while increasing food production and reducing the carbon footprint of fish farming."