The EU has launched an €8m ($9.4m) Horizon 2020 project called All Atlantic Ocean Sustainable, Profitable and Resilient Aquaculture (ASTRAL), which is focused on the Belém Statement with Brazil and South Africa to develop a marine research partnership. Led by Norwegian research centre NORCE, the programme also includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Ireland, Nigeria, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa and Spain. The project seeks to develop new profitable and strong value chains for integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, where different species are farmed together to provide fertiliser and food for each other.
Why does this matter? Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) provides a framework to develop sustainable fish farms, where circularity is introduced into the aquaculture process by farming species with complementary ecosystem functions in proximity to each other. This allows one species’ waste to be utilised as fertiliser and feed for other crops. This could result, for example, in the combination of farming finfish alongside seaweed or shellfish that re-capture the waste for their growth.
Despite the practice's potential environmental and economic benefits, and its long-standing use in Asia, IMTA projects in Europe have been hindered by poor commercial performance. Academic research indicates this is due to a lack of support from funding agencies and industry, as well as relatively low R&D knowledge.
The EU’s ASTRAL project, part of its Horizon 2020 programme, aims to address this by developing IMTA production chains for Atlantic markets. The programme will build on the Belém Statement on Atlantic marine research between the EU, Brazil and South Africa, and it also includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Ireland, Nigeria, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa and Spain. It will bring together open offshore, flow-through inshore and recirculation labs with an aim of increasing circularity 60% compared to monoculture aquaculture.
If the project is a success it will increase the potential for revenue diversification among aquaculture producers. It forms part of the EU’s long-term Blue Growth strategy to support sustainable growth in maritime and marine sectors.
Of course in Europe, and elsewhere, aquaculture has taken a hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This has resulted in support packages from European member states to, at least partly, support the sector, most recently in Italy. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, and amid Covid-19, Lebanon is looking to aquaculture as a means of improving its economic situation and food security – the country currently imports 90% of its seafood.
More broadly, analysis suggests the EU’s attempts to improve its aquaculture industry over recent years have struggled – even without taking into account the impacts of Covid-19. Initiatives focused on sustainable growth, such as the above, can perhaps provide longer-term value by focusing on sustainability.
ASTRAL also has a focus on improving and developing sensors, the Internet of Things and machine learning use in aquaculture. Companies are developing technology in this space, including CageEye which has created an autonomous feeding system that monitors fish with acoustic sensors and artificial intelligence, and Norway Royal Salmon which has partnered with Microsoft and ABB on an algorithm to track fish stocks.
Source: The Fish Site