September 29, 2020
Cermaq aims to improve fish health and welfare with five-year project
By using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Cermaq will be able to identify each fish in a net pen, allowing for targeted health interventions if required and individualised health records for each individual fish.
The company's iFarm five-year project is the first of its kind and will allow for an individualised fish approach to salmon farming. Now, the first fish have been transferred in Cermaq's iFarm.
Last December, Cermaq Norway was awarded four development licenses for iFarm, and preparation work started in January. Since then, thanks to the efforts and support of many people across Cermaq, BioSort, the developer of the technology, and ScaleAQ, who has supported the delivery of the system, the various components of iFarm are taking shape and Cermaq has been able to successfully install the system.
The project recently achieved a major milestone when the first smolt was transferred in the iFarm pens.
"This is a very exciting and important phase in the project; now we will see how the fish behave in the actual iFarm environment, and whether our modelling and predicted outcomes for behavior are accurate," said Karl Fredrik Ottem, Cermaq's project manager for iFarm.
In iFarm, the fish are kept lower in the system using a net roof. When the fish rise to the surface to refill their airbladders, they are guided through a portal or chamber, where a sensor can quickly scan, recognise and record data on a specific fish using recognition data based on each fish's unique markings and structure.
"A prototype of the sensor itself will not be in place until November, allowing the fish to become used to their new environment over the coming eight weeks. Until then, we will spend time observing the fish's behavior in the cage, how they move and how they eat, so that we can make any adjustments before we install the sensor. In addition, this time will allow us to develop and implement good operating practices as this is a new farm installation and we know we will need to adapt our practices," said Ottem.
The iFarm system is initially installed in two pens with slightly different layouts of iFarm. The equipment for the pens was delivered early this summer, with parts of the system being assembled and installed on land in Nordfold, Steigen, Norway. The pre-assembled equipment was then transported to the sea site at Martnesvika, where the final assembly of nets was completed.
"We have a very close and good partnership with both BioSort and ScaleAQ, and so far, we are on schedule," said Ottem. "For us at Cermaq, especially those of us working within the project team, it is incredibly exciting that we now have come to the milestone where fish has been transferred and we are all looking forward to the exiting trial ahead once the sensors have been installed."
The technology will -- if the project is successful -- represent a leap forward for our ability to secure fish welfare and for performance and overall farming practices.
"What we are trying to achieve with iFarm is to develop a technology that, in the long-term, can lead to better fish health and welfare and help strengthen the competitiveness of coastal farming. We have high expectations that the health and welfare of the salmon can be improved with iFarm, if we succeed," said Ottem.
The iFarm project trial will run until 2025, and Cermaq recognises that it is in the very early stages of the project. The company said iFarm is a very complex system which will require sophisticated interaction between farming equipment, machine vision and fish behavior in full scale. Advanced underwater technology will be developed, and it will work in close interaction with the fish. The knowledge and experience gained from this first stocking of fish will be used to optimide the design for Cermaq's second stocking, which is planned in 2021.
iFarm is based on a technology that makes it possible to recognise, record and track each individual fish in the system, and maintain an individualised health record, and allow for targeted health interventions, when required. It will provide better fish health and welfare and will be a leap for the aquaculture industry, according to Cermaq.
Each iFarm system can house approximately 150,000 fish. The salmon is kept lower in the pen by means of a net roof. When a fish rises to the surface to fill its swim bladder with air, it is guided through the iFarm sensor, which scans each fish and uses automatic image processing to recognise each individual fish.
Weight and weight development of each individual fish are measured. Lice are counted on the whole fish, including early stages of lice. Any wounds and signs of illness are also registered in the fish's health record.
iFarm can sort the fish so that any treatment is adapted to the individual's needs.