We recently wrote about land-based aquaculture and cell-cultured seafood, two high-tech production techniques that could help meet the growing demand for seafood while reducing environmental impacts. But conventional fish farming still looms large: global aquaculture production grew nearly 530% between 1990 and 2018, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Kvarøy Arctic, a third-generation, family-owned aquaculture company, has been farming salmon in the Arctic Circle since 1976. Over the past two decades, the company has taken steps to reduce its environmental footprint. Last week, The Spoon sat down with Zoom with the company’s CEO, Alf-Gøran Knutsen, to find out how Kvarøy is using technology to achieve this goal.
The company’s biggest innovation involves blockchain technology – which Kvarøy uses to boost transparency and traceability, creating a system where customers can hold the company accountable every step of the way, from eggs to packaged fish product. .
“We already had a lot of baseline data on where the fish were raised, how they were fed, how they were selected,” Knutsen told The Spoon. “But all of that data was fragmented and separated.” With the new system, data on salmon eggs, smolt production, offshore production, harvesting and processing are grouped into blocks. Then these blocks are linked together, creating a chain of data that integrates information from every stage of the fish life cycle. By partnering with fish feed producer Biomar, Kvarøy has even made the individual ingredients of its salmon feed traceable on the blockchain.
Kvarøy’s packaging is already printed with QR codes, and the company hopes to fully implement the tracking system with its retail partners sometime next year. The data also helps the company improve its own practices, increase efficiency and reduce fish mortality. For example, the company is currently experimenting with a prototype tool that tells the team when to start farming salmon eggs in order to sell a certain amount of fish on a certain date.
The company has also found a way to treat its salmon for parasitic sea lice without using antibiotics. Using Oslo-based technology company Stingray Marine Solutions’ laser delousing system, which is powered by machine vision, the Kvarøy team can remove lice without harming the salmon or polluting the environment.
In the near future, artificial intelligence could also help Kvarøy monitor the health of his fish. The company plans to implement a system that would recognize and track individual salmon, keeping track of injuries and other potential health issues.
Kvarøy estimates that it takes about 1.4 kilograms less carbon and 500 kilograms less water to produce one kilogram of fish than to produce the same amount through standard non-organic aquaculture. Knutsen attributes most of this difference in environmental footprint to Kvarøy’s fish feed: in addition to fishmeal and krill, the company uses vegetable proteins, starches and oils to feed its fish. “We’re always trying to innovate,” Knutsen said. “And we’re always trying to find new ways to source food closer to where we produce our fish.”
Last year, Kvarøy launched an American brand, placing its products in Whole Foods Markets and other grocery stores. The company is currently working to transition away from the use of fossil fuels and power more of its operations with renewable electricity. And in the coming year, Knutsen said the team will work to launch its first land-based fish farm.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, well-managed fish farms can help maintain and even rebuild fish stocks. Kvarøy’s approach provides an example of how aquaculture companies can combine generations of experience with technological innovation to have greater impact.
Image courtesy of Kvarøy Arctic