A technological project will improve animal welfare and energy efficiency in aquaculture

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By Milthon Lujan

Spain.- Fish farming, including crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plants, is an important industry in Spain. In fact, Spain has one of the highest aquaculture harvests in the EU, with more than 300,000 tonnes of product with a market value of 470 million euros, and it employs more than 40,000 people. The UOC will develop a technology to facilitate accurate continuous monitoring of basic water parameters to improve animal welfare, reduce energy expenditure and optimize feed utilization and planning of fish and algae growth. The Open Digital Aquaculture (ODA) project will install low-cost electronic sensors to monitor pH levels, temperature, turbidity or oxygen in a number of farms in Catalonia (in Baix Montseny, Pla de Lleida and Terres de l’Ebre). About 150 companies in Catalonia operate fish farms, generating more than 2,000 jobs.

The ODA will support technological solutions aimed at digitizing the industry by providing basic elements. The project will provide data acquisition systems as well as open source platforms for data storage and viewing. One of the goals is to define data formats and standards which enable small- and medium-sized producers to achieve success with a much lower investment than other technologies.

“A data digitization system that can be connected to a turbidity sensor can cost about 4,500 euros. A more basic but still functional solution using open source tools will cost less than 400 euros. That means savings of 90%”, highlighted the project’s coordinator, Xavier Vilajosana. “Our aim is not to be a competitor in the industry but to give it new life, motivating people to digitize, stimulating demand and, therefore, competition”, added Vilajosana, who is also a full professor at the UOC.

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The initiative will create solutions that don’t rely on human intervention to obtain and process data, nor will any expertise be needed to install and deploy the system. “To complete the technology chain, we will provide the hardware components design and diagrams to integrate them, the communication technology to extract the data generated and the software to store, display and process them”, explained the leader of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute’s (IN3) Wireless Networks Research Lab (WINE) group, which is carrying out this research together with the researcher Pere Tuset.

Energy saving, animal welfare and fewer occupational hazards

The ODA will also enable the expectations generated by this digitization to be validated, quantifying growth in production, quality and its benefits. “The result will be an unprecedented technological improvement in aquaculture, a primary production sector in which technology use must be driven by success stories and low investment requirements, particularly in territories where the producers are small- or medium-sized”, said Xavier Vilajosana. Furthermore, according to the research team, digitization provides more detailed information about the production systems’ functioning and evolution. This translates into improved management of the infrastructures and, as a result, energy saving thanks to processes’ optimal planning.

The technology also enables improvements to be made to the animals’ well-being and health management through closer control of their quality of life. Another of its benefits is the reduction in the number of injuries and accidents associated with monitoring tasks, as they no longer have to be performed manually.

The sensors will be battery-powered so that they can use solar or wind power as an energy source, which will further contribute to the system’s sustainability. The data obtained by each node will be sent by a secure channel to a cloud platform, where they will be stored and processed. Users will be able to access their data privately and create dashboards that can be viewed from a computer or a mobile device. In addition, an app programming interface will be defined which will enable data integration by third-party apps.

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The blue economy in figures

Within the EU, aquaculture is included in Blue Growth, a long-term European strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors. The initiative seeks to recognize the importance of seas and oceans as drivers of the European economy, with room for innovation and expansion. It integrates maritime policy to contribute to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Blue economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year.

Other participants in the University’s research are a company specialized in algae farming, Explotacions 4200 SL, located in the Pla de Lleida (Almacelles); Espirulina Natural, in the Baix Montseny agricultural park, in Cànoves, specialized in microalgae; Xarxa Espirulina, an educational and research organization that promotes plant aquaculture; and the IES Alfacs’ School of Aquaculture, in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, in the Terres de l’Ebre region. The UOC’s ODA project is funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, created to foster knowledge transfer between researchers and fishing professionals and innovation in the aquaculture industry for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. It is managed by the Government of Catalonia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food.

Source: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

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