European aquaculture studies lead to creation of cost-reducing automatic fish feeding system

A collection of European aquaculture studies has resulted in the development of a new automatic fish feeding system that is designed to significantly reduce the cost of fish farming.

Recent European aquaculture studies have focused on reducing production costs and increasing production efficiency, while at the same time trying to minimise the environmental impact and ensure fish welfare during the farming process.

Currently, for many fish farmers, the cost of feeding is around 50% of their total budget. However, a new innovative automatic feeding system based on passive acoustics systems and Artificial Intelligence may contribute to more sustainable fish farming.

Rosa Martínez Álvarez-Castellanos, R&D Technician at Centro Tecnológico Naval y del Mar (CTN), said: “Our system combines different technologies, like passive acoustic sensors, IoT, and machine learning to monitor and control fish behaviour in the cages.”

What is the SICA system?

SICA is a non-invasive, passive acoustic system comprised of two modules: Data Logger and Control Unit. The Data Logger, which is deployed in sea cages, performs the acquisition stage through the passive acoustic sensor, and a pre-processing stage of the data is transmitted via the Wireless Communication Module. The Control Unit is placed where the feeding process is undertaken. In this project, the system was installed at the barge in SINTEF ACE facilities. Its function is to apply the machine learning algorithms to the data received from the Wireless Communication Module and make decisions about the feeding process.

The SICA system operates autonomously, acquiring and processing the acoustic data. The technology is non-invasive and provides real-time monitoring. In contrast to the traditional method of underwater video cameras, this system was found to detect unusual behaviour of salmon more effectively during the feeding process by identifying low feed intake earlier. By improving the efficiency of the feeding process, salmon farmers can reduce environmental impacts and increase their production.

Testing the SICA system

The CTN has first tested the system in Mediterranean sea bass farms. This species is different from salmon, and the farming conditions themselves were much more challenging. To verify that the concept works under different conditions, and in order to train the algorithms, they performed tests at the SINTEF ACE full-scale aquaculture facilities in Frøya, Norway.

Use of the SINTEF ACE test facilities was crucial for Rosa Martínez Álvarez-Castellanos and her colleges. She explained: “We needed access to good facilities to get the best results, and especially under such harsh conditions. In particular, we were able to test our equipment under different weather conditions and with the proper feeding equipment. The results showed that our concept is working.”

The facility provided access to a fish farm, boats, sensors, and assistance to set up the units at different cages. They also had fast wireless communication that helped them to test the system thoroughly. “This fast connection allowed us to expand the collaboration between CTN in Spain and the system (SICA) in Norway during the experiment,” says Álvarez-Castellanos.

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