June 2022: Climate-Friendly Seafood — How Aquaculture Can Reduce GHG Emissions

Last month I was intrigued by — and very much enjoyed — a joint study between the University of Adelaide and the Nature Conservancy, which assessed how GHG emissions from finfish, seaweed and bivalve aquaculture could be mitigated. The study — Climate-Friendly Seafood: The Potential for Emissions Reduction and Carbon Capture in Marine Aquaculture — gives a good insight into the development of climate-friendly aquaculture practices and the issues that we need to prioritise and address. 

When it comes to our food and issues such as climate change and carbon footprint, discussions tend to focus on meat, or corn, or soy. But what about fish and seafood? Can these be climate-friendly food alternatives? Some of us may think so, but both wild-caught and farmed fish generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with impacts varying widely depending on what the fish eat, how they are caught or farmed, and how they make their way to our plates. We talk a lot about sustainable aquaculture or responsible aquaculture, but these can be quite loose terms that don’t always carry a lot of meaning or specificity. Emissions and climate-friendly seafood are much more specific, which is why this particular study caught my eye. 

Climate-Friendly Seafood

According to the study, aquaculture produces GHG emissions in many ways, for example through feed production or transportation. Finfish aquaculture has the highest GHG footprint, far more than seaweed and bivalve aquaculture. Seaweed has the lowest footprint because production involves limited infrastructure and mechanisation and is closer to shore, therefore lower on farm transport and maintenance emissions. However, on-farm activities such as using electricity and fuel could be classified as emissions-intensive. The study says that attention should be paid to the sources of energy for seaweed cultivation and any change in farm location, such as moving or expanding to offshore environments that could be energy-intensive. 

Bivalve aquaculture doesn’t require feed inputs, so emissions can be minimised. Like seaweed, energy and fuel use on a bivalve farm are the two areas that could potentially contribute to increased emissions, depending on the production system. 

Finfish aquaculture has the highest GHG footprint because of the emissions intensity from feed supply, including wild-caught fishmeal or fish oil, feed processing, transportation of feed to farms and crop agriculture, deforestation or fertiliser use if fishmeal alternatives are used. The fuel used on boats that catch wild-caught fish is also a big factor. Feed is undoubtedly the number one culprit for GHG emissions when it comes to finfish aquaculture, but in order to understand the impact of these emissions, we need to know what kind of feed is used and how efficiently fish convert food into growth. And, finally, feed aside, the location where products are processed can also increase GHG emissions. Shipping something to be processed in another country, or importing a product for sale, raises fuel and energy consumption significantly. The result? Higher emissions. 

Reducing GHG Emissions

One way for aquaculture to reduce GHG emissions is to switch to low-emissions energy sources, biofuels and sustainable building materials. For example, finfish aquaculture could switch from diesel oil to natural gas. This has been shown to reduce GHG nitrous oxide emissions from farmed salmon by 85% and CO2 emissions by 20%, according to the study. Site selection is also key to limiting GHG emissions. Seagrass and other sensitive habitats should be avoided as much as possible, but if this is difficult, regularly shifting the location of infrastructure within the broader farm area could be a step to take. Farmers could also shift to species that require less feed, or change the composition of feed to reduce eutrophication. 

For bivalve aquaculture, manual harvesting is said to be the least likely to disturb seagrass, while the volume of carbon-rich shell waste could also be taken into account. Rather than discarding bivalve shells in landfills, where they eventually release stored carbon into the environment, upcycling and turning them into calcium carbonate or calcium oxide can provide a cheap, abundant and sustainable resource.

Focusing on climate-friendly farm designs, farm siting and species choices can all help to support reductions in GHG emissions in seaweed aquaculture, while the use of farmed seaweed in future feed or animal feed products could achieve a net reduction in GHG emissions compared to current feed sources, or provide a functional food value such as improving fish health and therefore efficiency in production. There are also opportunities to reduce indirect GHG releases, such as the release of CO2 associated with calcification. Farming seaweed with bivalves could lead to a net reduction in CO2 emissions, while cofarming finfish with seaweed or bivalves absorbs excess nutrients, reducing eutrophication. 

Moving Forward

Aquaculture needs to be part of the climate change solution. Sustainable aquaculture or responsible aquaculture are well-established concepts, but perhaps we should also consider low GHG aquaculture. Policy shifts, international cooperation, improved technology and assistance for fish farmers are all necessary changes if aquaculture is to continue improving. Farmers must show that their products and production systems fit into a more environmentally-friendly world, while consumers can continue to signal that they want sustainably-caught, low carbon fish, not just to help fight climate change but also to help preserve the fish that they want to see on their plates. 

As aquaculture increases in prevalence and importance, so too do its climate impacts, but multitrophic aquaculture, such as farming oysters or mussels together with seaweed, can be far more climate friendly and help combat climate change. Not only does this help in terms of ocean acidification, but it also provides a little bit of a carbon sink and sequesters some of the local carbon, tempers the surrounding acidity and produces a better shellfish product. Seaweed creates oxygen pockets that shellfish can thrive in, and also draws out some of the excess carbon in the ocean, which helps mitigate the effects of climate change.

As aquaculture continues to expand, intensify and diversify, we must recognise the relevant environmental and social concerns such as impacts from feed production, water pollution, antimicrobial resistance and competition for land and water, and take steps to address them.

April 2022: IoT, The Rising Star in Aquaculture

Aquaculture is a relatively new industry, with the most established farms having only really started in the late 20th century. But it’s grown to such an extent that today, seafood from aquaculture now accounts for over half of all the fish we eat worldwide. Given the negligible scope for capture fisheries to increase their harvests — it may only be a matter of time before we pull the last fish out of the ocean — aquaculture is now poised to feed a hungry planet and meet the increasing demand for seafood. One thing it will need to fulfil this task is technology. 

Enter the Internet of Things, or IoT. Companies and startups are turning to IoT to develop systems that pull data from various sensors and satellites. This data is then put to use to make operations more efficient using cloud-based analytic software tools. Every item of equipment across the production chain can be interconnected through IoT. Cloud computing also provides a virtual storage place and pathway for the vast amounts of data and programmes that need to be stored and accessed. This enables better collaboration between developers situated remotely, offers a clearer understanding of what is happening across a farm, and enables decisions to be made swiftly if a farm is likely to encounter any problems. 

Farmers can gather information through cameras, digital image data acquisition equipment and temperature, humidity, light and other sensors for water quality parameters. Data on the health of fish and environmental parameters can then be transmitted to a control center through communication nodes with data processing and decision-making performed in the cloud. Integrating technology and the whole industrial chain of aquaculture production, operation, management and service also means that, for example, an aerator system can precisely control the aerator, circulating water treatment equipment and cleaning equipment to achieve good water quality. Or, an automatic fish divider could pool and harvest fry of different sizes and ages, while fault diagnosis and early warning systems are constantly on alert to guarantee safe operations. 

Put simply, farmers get the visibility they need to do the following:

–> Stay on top of fish health. Farmers can foresee everything from fish growth rates to environmental threats like algal blooms thanks to real-time monitoring and management.

–> Decrease the amount of waste from feed. They can tell when their fish are being overfed and predict how much the fish will eat based on temperature, health, time of year and other factors, resulting in less feed waste.

–> Comply with regulations. Because healthy fish don’t need antibiotics, farms are able to prove that they are complying with particular regulations or sustainability requirements.

What IoT Technologies Are Driving Aquaculture?

My work over the past few months has shown just how important IoT is in aquaculture. The Climate Smart Pilots (CSP) project in New South Wales, Australia, was launched in 2018. It’s working to understand how digital technology can help oyster farmers on the Clyde River estuary track and respond to changing conditions through data collection and decision-making tools. Last month I spoke to the project team and heard about their IoT sensors for salinity and water temperature, an automatic weather station that provides on-farm data, a cloud-based system to store and process the data, and a dashboard for data access, visualisations and alerts. The data is transferred to a cloud platform where AI and other analytical software converts it into predictions about local weather and havesting conditions. The team told me that local, real-time data is giving farmers plenty of information on what’s happening on their farms, what changes might occur, and helping them make decisions with confidence.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, researchers I spoke to at Universiti Putra Malaysia have found that with young people drawn to the concept of smart aquaculture, IoT and AI are actually attracting them to aquaculture and addressing the problems of an ageing workforce and declining populations in rural areas. The university team are using IoT to detect changes in water quality parameters, analyse data and provide fish and shrimp farmers with information to enable better decisions. Thanks to IoT, farmers have much more information on the health status of the species they are rearing (All photos below taken by Dato Prof Dr Mohamed Shariff bin Mohamed Din, Universiti Putra Malaysia).

One of the challenges facing IoT is poor connectivity, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by UK firm R3-IoT. Co-founder and CTO Kevin Quillien told me that poor connectivity must be addressed if aquaculture wants to digitize, and that satellite-enabled connectivity platforms such as the one his company is developing can help to provide end-to-end data services from smart devices anywhere, regardless of existing infrastructure. 

These are just three examples of IoT in aquaculture, but there are many more initiatives out there, such as systems that can count and size organisms like shrimp larvae or submersible devices that can analyze particles in water using microscopes and machine vision (these can also serve as early-warning tools for detecting harmful algal blooms). 

It’s interesting to see that although aquaculture is the fastest-growing food sector in the world, technologically it’s only recently getting on board, while many other factors need to be addressed such as implementation costs, reliable, intelligent algorithms, long-term stable operation equipment and data security. Aquaculture will also require more IoT research and economic analysis to identify ways for IoT and other technology to be economically viable. I also believe that acceptance is still a key issue for IoT’s full implementation, and that over time, proof of value will be among the many ways in which IoT could be boosted in the industry. But, IoT will help increase profitability for farms, improve control and increase production. This, in turn, reduces risk and creates information, opening up opportunities for more significant investment and further industry growth overall. A combination of different technologies and systems all working together will no doubt continue to improve the many stages of fish and shellfish farming operations, enabling aquaculture to take great strides in the future.

August 2021: Traceability – The Key to Better Fisheries and Aquaculture?

As we already know, aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food production areas and one of the most important sources of food, nutrition, income and livelihoods for millions of people worldwide.

We also hear much about its potential and benefits, but juggling sustainable practices, local regulations and proof of quality can be difficult, and for consumers this can cast doubt on the quality of seafood that is coming from aquaculture. Regulators, food processors, fish farms, buyers and suppliers all need a way to share accurate and trusted information with their customers. Although it’s developing rapidly, aquaculture also has a reputation as an under-regulated industry, and consumers today are wary of farm-raised seafood even as the industry grows.

One way for aquaculture to build confidence in the integrity of its work is to improve its traceability. With effective traceability measures, it becomes possible to verify operational sustainability, while there are also financial and environmental incentives. Traceability can also limit product recalls and investor risk, and improve profitability. Investors can also play a part by talking to the firms they’ve invested in about how traceability can help increase profitability and sustainability. They could also help to weigh up the pros and cons of a company’s initiatives, and work out how they can move forward. Being transparent is a great opportunity for farms and companies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

There is still a lot of work to be done for aquaculture firms to take full advantage of increased traceability, but many of them see it as a key sustainability goal. One such company is Grieg Seafood BC. In September last year, it received its sixth and final Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) multi-site certificate for its Sunshine Coast and Okisollo Channel farms in British Columbia. The certificate is the largest globally with a total of six farms. Certification is one way of enabling aquaculture to demonstrate responsible farming practices by complying with national legislation, minimising environmental impact and making the best use of locally available resources. Under the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s certification scheme, fish farms are assessed by independent organisations (certifying bodies) against a range of principles including environmental and water resource preservation, diversity of species and wild populations, animal health, social responsibility and responsible use of animal feed and other resources.

Grieg has also recently partnered with Scoot Science in Santa Cruz to launch the SeaState Dashboard, an ocean analytics and data management platform that will provide real-time data on ocean environmental conditions to Grieg’s salmon farms in British Columbia. By using sensor networks on farms, the platform will show how salmon farms react to changing ocean conditions and will be available to universities, scientists and indigenous groups to access in order to study ocean trends and understand the interaction between ecological systems and the changing ocean environment. Other data, including Grieg’s sea lice numbers and compliance with regulatory bodies, will be made publicly available in line with Grieg’s transparency goals.

Recognising the growing consumer demand for food-production information, salmon producer Mowi is also taking steps. It’s created a traceability platform that lets shoppers see, via smartphone app, how the company operates and raises its fish, with information about origin, farming and harvesting activities. Readily available technology is becoming increasingly important for companies as an increasing number of them move towards sharing their production processes and more with the public.

Fisheries
Traceability is also critical to sustainable fisheries management. For the fishing industry, effective traceability measures can help to reduce stocks from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing passing through the supply chain and onto our plates. Businesses can verify the environmental sustainability and social responsibility of products they purchase. Companies and investors can be protected from regulatory and reputational risks. Producers and suppliers who maintain sustainable practices can get the recognition they have earned, and governments can better manage their resources.

Global standards, such as the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST), are a promising step in the traceability journey. Released last year, their goal is to enable industry-wide traceability from individuals on mobile phones to large seafood companies and retailers. GDST is an international, business-to-business platform of stakeholders from different areas of the seafood supply chain. Various companies can join to become part of discussions, consultations and contribute to the evolution of seafood standards and better traceability. They can also get help in disclosing their annual seafood sourcing details by becoming part of the Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP), a Sustainable Fisheries Partnership project that promotes traceability in the seafood industry. Retailers, suppliers, and others can disclose their wild-caught and farmed seafood sourcing alongside information on the environmental performance of each source. Consumers can access all ODP company profiles and other known disclosures through the ODP website.

Another company that impressed me last year with their work on traceability is fishing company Usufuku Honten in Kesennuma city, northeast Japan. Usufuku Honten hit headlines in the west last August when it received Marine Stewardship Council certification for its Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery. Located in an area that was devastated by the March 11th 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Usufuku Honten saw the tragic events as a new start and an opportunity to help local industries including fisheries and aquaculture gain more recognition.

Today, president Sotaro Usui is part of a programme that promotes fish caught in Kesennuma city at schools. Through engaging classes, fun activities and lessons on the importance of primary industries, children get to meet fishermen and hear about their work, eat locally caught or produced seafood for lunch and visit seafood markets. Usui believes that education, from a young age, and making fisheries and aquaculture appear fun are two key ways to be transparent (Photos below courtesy of Usufuku Honten).

Education
The importance of public education is being noticed outside Japan, too. A few years ago, the FAO held a workshop in Spain on increasing understanding and acceptance among the public and the important role of traceability. Participants acknowledged the significant gap in consumers’ knowledge of fisheries and aquaculture and the inconsistent and inaccurate ways in which information is being communicated, resulting in issues of trust between industry and consumers. Participants suggested that acknowledging and learning from past mistakes could create a better image, as well as emphasising interest in good environmental conditions and healthy fish stocks but even more importantly, there is a need for fisheries and aquaculture to tell a good story. Rather than just sharing scientific facts, both industries need to deliver messages that can be understood and trusted by the public, maybe by working with chefs or nutritionists, or showing how fisheries and aquaculture can improve the livelihoods of local communities. This is why I really love Usui’s approach. Although important, I don’t think that certifications and global standards are the only way forward – fisheries and aquaculture can do so much more by telling interesting stories, highlighting its support for good environmental conditions and healthy fish stocks, and perhaps sharing other information such as the health benefits of fish, not only focusing on wild vs farmed.

What Next?
Fisheries and aquaculture have been doing their utmost to make seafood one of the most sustainable and safest food sources. However, this only matters if all of us, from regulators to consumers, can trust that we aren’t being misled. By focusing on traceability and embedding trust throughout the production chain, fisheries and aquaculture can help to ensure a more sustainable food supply, both now and in the future.

July 2021: The Case For Regenerative Aquaculture

Over the past few months, the words regenerative aquaculture have been featuring prominently in aquaculture circles following the release of a new study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the world’s leading conservation organisation, and The University of New England. Published in the journal Reviews in Aquaculture, it shows that seaweed and shellfish farming is a critical part of regenerative food production and helps meet the needs of a growing population while working to maintain and improve ocean health.

According to the study, mussel farms appear to be the most beneficial for enhancing the volume of marine life, as 3.6 times more fish and invertebrates seem to appear around those farms compared to others. Oyster farms also help to increase species diversity by providing food, places to forage and reproductive grounds for fish. The study is a great read and a fantastic example of the positive impact that aquaculture can have on our oceans.

But what exactly is regenerative aquaculture? Perhaps the biggest and most well-known example is the work of GreenWave, which uses the term regenerative ocean farming. GreenWave is a US nonprofit that grows shellfish, kelp and other sea vegetables that don’t require any freshwater, fertilisers or feed. Instead, these species soak up nutrients while sequestering carbon and rebuilding ecosystems. 

GreenWave’s model involves hanging seaweed, kelp, scallops and mussels from buoys, while cages with oysters and clams lie beneath. Growing a mix of species, each playing a vital role, mimics the diversity of ocean reefs. Kelp can act as a physical cushion in storm surges, absorbing energy from high waves, while seaweed and shellfish provide a safe haven for marine life and a habitat that can foster biodiversity and support the health of an array of species. The setup can also provide jobs to local communities that rely on the sea to make a living. Both seaweed and shellfish also require zero inputs as they utilise sunlight alongside nutrients and plankton that are already in the water to grow. This means that the primary sources of aquaculture pollution – fish feed, chemical fertilisers and other synthetic chemicals – are not part of the equation.

But the ability of shellfish and seaweed to fight the pressing issue of climate change is undoubtedly worth mentioning. Seaweed is incredibly efficient when it comes to taking in carbon for growth and mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification. One study estimates that it could sequester around 173 million metric tonnes of carbon each year. Shellfish, meanwhile, filter nitrogen out of the water column (the main nitrogen polluter is agricultural fertiliser runoff that ends up in the ocean). Nitrogen is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s an essential part of life but too much has a devastating effect on our land and ecosystems. 

Regenerative aquaculture offers large quantities of food while ocean conditions are improved and greenhouse gases are absorbed. That’s a huge win for us, but it doesn’t stop at humans. Integrating seaweed into fish feed as a fishmeal and fish oil alternative could also have potential, says Dr. Julie Ekasari of Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia. “Based on its nutritional composition, seaweed is indeed a promising feed raw material,” she told me. “It can contribute to the supply of some essential nutrients and bioactive compounds that further upgrade the function of the feed. From a production point of view, seaweed culture is also relatively inexpensive with simple technology. We believe that the need for seaweed as a marine-based feed raw material will continue to increase in future.”

“Some studies have shown that dietary seaweed supplementation could enhance the levels of some bioactive compounds and essential minerals such as carotenoids and iodine in fish meat. In this sense, we can hypothesise that it may also enhance the health benefits of cultured fish for human consumption,” she continued.

Regenerative aquaculture is drawing attention at the right time. The Nature Conservancy study was released amidst much focus on the negative environmental impacts of food production, so this couldn’t be a better opportunity to highlight aquaculture’s potential. In addition, various organic and sustainability movements over the years have made us think more about how our food is raised, grown, harvested, processed and how it impacts the environment. Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we’ve become more aware of supply chain disruptions, how far our food has been travelling and the environmental impact of these journeys. Hopes are high that starting with the Nature Conservancy study, the positive impacts of aquaculture will be better recognised and play a key role in the development of an industry that is even better managed and geared towards ecosystem recovery and protection.

Regenerative aquaculture may not be the solution to all the environmental problems out there, but it does show that small steps can have really significant results. As we continue to look closely at our food systems and topics such as climate change become part of everyday conversations, regenerative aquaculture definitely needs to be part of the solution.

May 2021: Better Late Than Never…Looking Back on Seaspiracy

Since its release on March 24th, the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy has been dividing opinions and sparking discussion on issues such as sustainable seafood and the plight of our ocean. 

It is clear that we need to change how we protect the ocean, and Seaspiracy has been igniting new conversations on how just how much the ocean is being mistreated. It’s also bringing to light certain fishing and aquaculture practices that need to end, introducing people to ocean issues and challenging them to think more about their seafood consumption. But Seaspiracy doesn’t even begin to cover the full extent of just how much the ocean is in trouble. Climate change, the potential extinction of coral reefs, mining the deep sea and ocean acidification – these are also wreaking havoc. 

But what disappointed me about Seaspiracy was the total exclusion of those who are working to change commercial fishing and aquaculture practices. Let’s start with aquaculture…

Farming Fish

Aquaculture has grown remarkably to become the world’s fastest-growing food producing sector. Offering direct employment to around 20.5 million people, it’s a vital industry that will not only increase the amount of food that can be produced, but also alleviate pressure on wild fish stocks. 

Since I started writing about this industry, I’ve been amazed by the efforts that are being made to address a host of issues such as waste from production systems and fishmeal alternatives. Here are just some examples of what’s going on:

→ Fishmeal alternatives – Seaspiracy talks about feeding wild fish to grow farmed fish and it’s clear that if aquaculture operations switch from forage fish such as anchovies or sardines to ingredients like insects, algae or yeast, it could considerably reduce pressure on wild forage fish stocks. To this end, Norwegian firm Metapod is developing technology to produce a highly digestible meal for salmon made from grasshoppers and crickets. Insects are a natural diet for salmon and trout in the wild and they can also grow on food waste. Protix is another firm that’s doing exactly the same with insects.

→ Recycling waste and tackling sea lice – Seaspiracy also chronicles sea lice infestations on salmon farms in Scotland and chemical/organic waste that’s being pumped into rivers and the ocean. It’s true that the intensification of aquaculture has led to increased fish waste from production systems and more sea lice but some companies are taking action to address this. Norwegian firm Bioretur provides treatment plants and services to convert fish sludge from land-based salmon farms into fertiliser by drying the sludge into a powder beforehand. Their fertiliser is also shipped to Vietnam, where farmers use it to produce various products such as coffee. Meanwhile, the salmon farming industry is continuously researching non-medicinal approaches to tackle sea lice and a host of efforts are being made here. Breeding salmon that are more resistant to sea lice also has potential, according to the University of Edinburgh.

→ Integrated multitrophic aquaculture or IMTA – This is the farming in proximity of species from different trophic levels to allow one species’ uneaten feed and waste, nutrients and by-products to be recaptured and converted into feed and energy for the other. In Asia, especially China, it’s been practised for centuries, for example in rice fields where the fields provide the environment and habitat for fish and other aquatic animals while the fish feed on invertebrates and other organic particles in the fields. Now, researchers in Ireland are working to determine whether IMTA could work on salmon farms by growing juvenile lobsters in cages attached to offshore pens. This would provide the lobsters with a source of food via waste from the farms, while the pens would shelter the lobsters from rough weather. 

Commercial Fishing

But Seaspiracy is ultimately about commercial fishing, and here also, the documentary touches on a number of issues including bycatch, the impacts of abandoned fishing gear, plastic pollution and labour abuses. The hard reality is that all these are happening. On top of this, the documentary then states that there is no such thing as a sustainable fishery. But these are in fact common. One paper published in early 2020 shows that on average, scientifically-assessed fish populations worldwide are healthy or improving. Fisheries are not perfect, and there is a crisis of overfishing in the oceans. But one definition of sustainable fishing is being able to catch the right amount of fish each year, and fortunately there is an entire branch of science, maths and computer models that are figuring out exactly what this amount is. 

Meanwhile, the documentary does not mention Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits, which helps to ensure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks, and what is being done by commercial fishing to address problems such as plastic pollution or bycatch. While discussing the negative impact of discarded or abandoned fishing gear, Seaspiracy made no mention of Blue Ocean Gear, a US firm that I interviewed just before the documentary was released. They’re developing sensors that track lost fishing gear and prevent aquatic life from becoming entangled. Also worth mentioning are the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which involves companies, NGOs, the fishing industry, academia and governments working together to tackle lost and abandoned fishing gear, and SafetyNet Technologies, which helps fishers catch the right fish using light emitting devices. 

Should We Be Eating Fish?

At the end of the documentary, Tabrizi concludes that “the single best thing I could do every single day to protect the ocean and the marine life I loved was to simply not eat them.” But should we stop eating fish? On the one hand, probably not. A 2021 FAO report cites the importance of seafood in ending hunger and addressing malnutrition. It also states that the global seafood industry plays a vital role in livelihoods by employing hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The Global Aquaculture Alliance whom I write for also released this statement after Seaspiracy came out: 

“Simply ending aquaculture and fishing will do nothing but abandon people employed by the industry and rob billions of people of a healthful source of protein. We need to remember that ALL food production can be damaging if done irresponsibly. Soy production can lead to the destruction of precious rainforests and loss of biodiversity, for example.”

But on the other hand, unlike poorer, less developed countries where seafood is vital as a source of protein and income, in the west this isn’t the case, and so whether or not you eat fish is really a question of personal choice, beliefs or reasons related to health. Rather than eliminate seafood entirely, we can push for accountability for sustainability measures and increased traceability of what we’re consuming. After all, being an active consumer, insisting on knowing where our food comes from, asking questions, participating and learning more about our food is extremely rewarding. We can also take the time to read up on aquaculture and commercial fisheries and learn more about different species and how they are farmed or captured. Collaboration, transparency and honesty will be key to tackling the issues raised in Seaspiracy. 

Despite the disappointing side of the documentary, it’s exciting to see the attention given to a very important topic – critical issues that are affecting the ocean. But we must remember that scientists, industry, companies and more have been working hard for many years to improve fisheries and aquaculture. This post hasn’t even begun to cover the many other subjects that Seaspiracy talks about, but I hope it will get us thinking and be an opportunity for healthy, open discussions on how we can protect the ocean and learn more about commercial fishing and aquaculture. 

April 2021: Despite COVID-19, Aquaculture’s Commitments Remain

By now, we are all too familiar with the impacts of COVID-19. Since I started writing about aquaculture and fisheries six years ago, I’ve spent the longest period of time away from fish farms, companies and individuals, and have never felt less physically connected to an industry I have grown to love. 

Despite the challenges, however, the work of aquaculture this past year has been extremely impressive. Aquaconnect, a technology startup in India, launched a COVID-19 helpline for shrimp farmers to provide remote support on farm management and help farmers navigate supply, demand and logistics. In Japan, technology provider Umitron’s automated smart feeder CELL proved particularly advantageous. The device collects data to optimise feeding and is remotely managed through a cloud-based application on a mobile device. This allows farmers to feed and monitor their fish without being on their farm.

I also spoke to Juliette Alemany, a data scientist and project manager at Bangkok-based consultancy VerifiK8, which specialises in improving supply-chain sustainability through technology. She told me that the pandemic is an opportunity for aquaculture stakeholders to reconsider areas such as hard-to-predict risks and biosecurity. As new viruses commonly arise in aquaculture in the same way that COVID-19 arose in the human population, she said, farmers will need to come up with risk management and crisis plans, and realise the issue of disrupted supply chains and the need to strengthen bonds between farms and processors.

My favourite story from 2020 was on RAS technology that’s being used to farm horseshoe crabs for medical purposes. Dr. Anthony Dellinger, president of Kepley BioSystems, a life science start-up in North Carolina, told me that blood from horseshoe crabs is a vital resource for medicine as it contains Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) that is used in sterility testing. This ensures that drugs, vaccines and medical devices don’t contain potentially deadly bacteria known as endotoxins. However, horseshoe crabs in the wild are vulnerable due to global warming and harvesting for the biomedical industry. 

With this in mind, Dr. Dellinger and his team came up with a way to farm horseshoe crabs on land to obtain LAL without depending on wild populations. They estimate that 45,000 horseshoe crabs from aquaculture would provide enough LAL for all current diagnostic needs and even help to detect endotoxins in pre-treated human blood samples. This could lead to the early detection of infectious diseases, a welcome result for patients at risk of life-threatening conditions and in light of the pandemic. Vaccines and medical devices such as ventilator components will also need to be validated with LAL. With the pandemic continuing, there is an immediate, near-term need for large quantities of LAL to ensure that appropriate amounts reach the market as soon as possible.

“Our work is extremely important because of the Covid circumstances and the susceptibility of patients with COVID-19 to secondary bacterial infections. Such infections aren’t being looked at very carefully right now because COVID-19 patients are too sick and there is too much risk associated with it, but if we could use LAL in a very small blood sample, for example from a finger prick, and ascertain whether a patient is at risk of secondary infection, we could give physicians more information on how to treat such patients timely, accurately and how long for,” said Dr. Dellinger.

“It’s great to look at aquaculture from the perspective of clinically significant products that can be derived from marine sources. There is significant pressure on the medical industry to safeguard humanity, and aquaculture can help them meet that responsibility,” he concluded.

As travel has been neither allowed nor safe this past year, many conferences and events were postponed or cancelled. I was disappointed at the cancellation of Aquaculture UK that was due to be held in May 2020 in Aviemore, Scotland, and the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s* conference that was scheduled to take place in Tokyo in October 2020. But instead of resting on their laurels, organisers of events such as these worked closely to provide online webinars and industry conferences in a new, extra-digitally connected world. This provided aquaculture with unique opportunities to share its voice with a wider audience. Pure Salmon, Atlantic Sapphire and Nordic Aquafarms contributed some valuable lessons during the RAS Virtual Summit 2020, which was hosted by RASTech magazine and Annex Business Media in Canada. I particularly enjoyed the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s first online conference – GOAL 2020 – which covered a series of topics including production systems, disease management and welfare, trading, marketing and consumption in a COVID-19 world and land-based and offshore trajectories. The Global Conference on Aquaculture 2020, convened by the FAO, Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) and the World Fisheries Trust, also moved online. I’m extremely grateful to all the speakers for taking the time to share their knowledge and expertise, and to the organisers for making it possible to learn so much from the comfort of my own home. 

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has greatly affected fisheries and aquaculture around the world. An FAO report released in February this year – the impact of COVID-19 on fisheries and aquaculture food systems – discusses disruption to production, supply chains and consumer spending and warns of more interference. The pandemic has created some hurdles but there is lot that aquaculture can learn from it. Understanding what changes are required and how those changes can be met, for example by collecting data, collaborating with one another more closely and developing innovations, will be key as we slowly approach a new, post-pandemic era. A coordinated global effort will undoubtedly make the biggest impact. 

*The Global Aquaculture Alliance is now known as the Global Seafood Alliance following a name change in April 2021.

February 2019: Japan Aquaculture and Diving – Looking Back at 2018

Looking back at 2018, scuba diving and aquaculture scored big in Japan. This month on the blog is a quick look at what last year was like for two of Japan’s marine and science fields.

In aquaculture, innovation loomed large in terms of systems that aim to create more sustainable fish farming and streamline operations. From cloud computing to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things, new technologies, products, machines, facilities and systems are dramatically transforming relatively new industries like aquaculture, making huge impacts on growth and development. Such innovations are extremely significant for the future of farm production, management and risk mitigation strategies.

2018 could be characterised as the year of land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) in Japan. FRD Japan in Saitama City is working to establish cost-effective inland salmon farming, which could enable Japanese consumers to buy quality homegrown salmon whenever they like. Farming salmon at sea off Japan is a complicated prospect, as the ocean needs to be colder than 20C with no strong waves and currents, while inland farming is seen as impractical and expensive, requiring lots of water and electricity.

But FRD is working to convert simple tap water to seawater using artificial sea salt, which will allow its system to be used in any location that has tap water. The firm has also established a technology involving bacteria that can clean water by consuming the ammonia that’s produced by the fish and dissolving nitric acid. Chief Operating Officer Tetsuro Sogo believes his firm will be the first successful example of this type of land-based salmon farming. FRD Japan is also scaling up by building a larger, pilot plant in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo. Its goal is to produce 1,500 MT of salmon slices by 2020, again using ordinary tap water.
(Photos below: FRD Chief Operating Officer Tetsuro Sogo monitors water conditions in his land-based salmon farm. Credit: FRD Japan)

Japan’s bluefin tuna farming has been well-known since Kindai University successfully raised the species in captivity back in 2002. Over the years, Japanese seafood giants such as Maruha Nichiro have also been rearing tuna, and at the end of last year, Maruha Nichiro announced plans to export its tuna to the EU for the first time. Since perfecting their tuna farming techniques, several other firms in Japan, including seafood distributor Kyokuyo, are also looking beyond the domestic market. The next challenge for the farmed tuna industry will be further boosts in production and gaining increased support from consumers who are interested in resource conservation.
(Photos by myself taken at Kindai University’s offshore tuna farm, tuna photos courtesy of Maruha Nichiro)

In Japan’s scuba diving, two areas stood out last year. The annual spawning ritual of firefly squid has been drawing scientists to Toyama Bay for years, and now scuba divers are joining in. Each spawning season, between March and late May, bioluminescent females swim to the surface to release their eggs in the early morning, flashing blue lights over their bodies in a variety of alternating patterns. There are few other opportunities to glimpse these unusual creatures because firefly squid usually remain out of sight, their physiology, life history and behaviour a mystery.

While researchers work to better understand these creatures and the chemistry of bioluminescence, more and more scuba divers have been venturing out on night dives to watch the popular light display. English-speaking groups in Tokyo have organised trips and guided dives, offering divers an opportunity to enjoy and photograph the glowing blue light show, as the ocean transforms into a galactic landscape.

Firefly squid aren’t the only marine creatures congregating in large groups off Japan’s ocean. Closer to Tokyo is a town called Tateyama in Chiba prefecture, adjacent to the capital. Popular with divers, Tateyama is home to species such as sea horses, purple coral and eels but these aren’t the only reason why divers flock here. Only 5 – 10 minutes by boat from the shore is Shark Scramble, where divers swim in shark-infested waters surrounded by banded houndsharks and red stingrays. The dive is actually a shark-feeding one, established after banded houndsharks were poaching fish from local fishermen’s nets. English-speaking guide Kan Shiota of dive shop Bommie started organising dives to feed the sharks and lure them away from the nets. Since then, he’s never looked back. Two boat dives cost ¥16,500 yen and 2018 saw just as many divers arriving as previous years.

What’s ahead for aquaculture and diving in Japan?

In aquaculture, a large portion of time will continue to be spent on testing, learning and incorporating product and process improvements. As Japan hosts two seafood shows this year, one in Tokyo and the other in Osaka, there will be ample opportunity to work with customers on new innovations. Further updates can also be expected from Japan in software enhancements that focus on data analysis and monitoring offshore farms remotely.

In scuba diving, The Marine Diving Fair will be held in Tokyo this April, and in recent years the number of exhibitors and visitors from other countries such as Thailand, the Maldives and Indonesia has been growing considerably. With Japan now taking part in dive expos abroad (Hachijojima dive shop Concolor attended a dive expo in Hong Kong last December), there is likely to be more communication with dive destinations outside Japan and for Japan’s diving to become even better known.

Looking forward to a prosperous 2019!

January 2019: Rising Bubbles is Back

After a year’s hibernation, Rising Bubbles is making a comeback!

This comes just over a year after taking some time out from blogging, but fortunately it was all for good reasons, which I’ll be going into in a moment. For now, I’m excited to be restarting this blog with a host of ideas for 2019. Here’s a quick look back at 2018 before I delve into another new year…

Work got off to a busy start in January 2018 with the launch of a new series called Women in Aquaculture by The Fish Site, an aquaculture portal that is run by a textbook publishing firm called 5M Publishing that I’ve been working with for the past 4 years. I was delighted to help with the series, which aimed to highlight the roles of female workers in aquaculture. Throughout 2018, it was an honour to talk to a host of women across the world about everything aquaculture-related from gene editing, larval rearing and fish welfare to seaweed farming, oyster hatchery work and offshore cages. The biggest highlight was interviewing two women from Japan, Atsuko Nozaki and Yukiko Furukawa, who sent in these great photos of their work:

It also struck me just how many women work in aquaculture today, how varied their roles are and just how big an impact they are having. Many women, like myself, had no prior experience or scientific background before joining the aquaculture industry, which was extremely encouraging. 

As the Women in Aquaculture series kicked off, I discovered that the editor of another magazine I write for, World Fishing and Aquaculture, lived only half an hour away from my parents’ place in Southampton. He and I met for the first time in early 2018 and I made a few trips to the magazine’s main office to meet the staff I’d been corresponding with for the past three years. In May 2018, World Fishing and Aquaculture sent me to Singapore for 5 days to report back on the Offshore Mariculture Conference, the first to take place in the Southeast Asia region following the 2017 conference in Mexico. The event welcomed an audience of 130 aquaculture professionals including government officials, NGOs, investors, farm operators, equipment suppliers and more. My role was to attend all talks, write short summaries for the World Fishing and Aquaculture website and prepare a final, longer report back in the UK. Being rushed off my feet that much was a great challenge and it was an honour to listen to and learn from a range of high calibre speakers. 

After a couple of days back in the UK, I flew to Inverness and on to Aviemore to attend Aquaculture UK, the biggest aquaculture exhibition and conference in the British Isles. The three-day conference offers the opportunity to network, discover new products and find out the latest research, and for me it’s a great chance to catch up with staff from The Fish Site and my MSc tutors at the University of St Andrews. This year I helped man the booth of Canada’s Hatchery International magazine that I also write for, and enjoyed an array of presentations. Photos below were taken by 5M Publishing.

But by far my biggest highlight of 2018 was graduating from the University of St Andrews with my MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture. Looking back to 2014 when I tentatively started their undergraduate certificate course before the MSc in September 2015, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come and how I navigated the challenges of learning online, such as having to self-motivate and manage multiple courses in a limited time. Online study does eliminate the social aspect of in-person education but as someone who enjoys working at her own pace, independent higher education from home was ideal. Fortunately, the subject is also a joy, I relished the challenge of assignments, exams and final thesis and I’m sure that the knowledge I gained has been key to setting myself up as a freelance writer. I was also able to maintain my links to Japan by writing a thesis on disaster management, specifically the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011 and how aquaculture in affected areas is moving towards recovery. Having a specialty such as Japan has been key to standing out in the aquaculture industry. I celebrated my graduation with my husband and friend, and enjoyed a couple of wonderful hot and sunny days in Edinburgh and St Andrews.

As the hot UK summer began in earnest, my writing work continued to pick up, with a couple of  Japan-related assignments from the Global Aquaculture Alliance, an international NPO based in the US. After contacting the editor of the NPO’s magazine, Global Aquaculture Advocate, to introduce myself, I was delighted to receive some work from them and am hoping that this will become a more regular thing in 2019.

In October 2018 I also caught up with the staff of World Fishing and Aquaculture again at the smaller, sister conference of the Offshore Mariculture Conference, this time in Corfu. Clearly I couldn’t wait until 2020 for the next instalment 🙂 I spent three days doing similar work to Singapore – writing short summaries of each talk and a longer report back in the UK. The event was a great introduction to aquaculture in Greece, which is already an integral part of the country’s economy with 69% of total fisheries production coming from farming. It also explored the progress and prospects for offshore aquaculture and included a technical visit to a fish farm – this gave delegates a comprehensive insight into how offshore fish farms are operating today. 2018 concluded with an unexpected return to Tokyo after receiving an invitation from a friend at the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS) to give a talk at a symposium on women in fisheries and aquaculture. Working with The Fish Site, I prepared a 20-minute presentation called Women in Aquaculture: Stories from the Field, introducing the Women in Aquaculture series and examples of women playing active roles in the industry outside Japan. 

I started this blog in January 2011 as a record of my scuba diving trips around Japan and to give non-Japanese divers information in English on how to plan their own dives. It served as a fun way of documenting memories, sharing information and keeping friends and family in the loop. Today I’m not the full-time diver that I was, having moved back to the UK and focused more on building up my aquaculture work. But I’m still heavily impacted by my diving, my fellow divers and a spirit of curiosity that I had back then and still have today. As a couple of writing assignments for the Japan Times showed, diving in Japan is becoming more and more popular, and I continue to respond to enquiries from non-Japanese divers there. 

This year I’ll be working more with The Fish Site on their Women in Aquaculture efforts, and have started working on my first research paper based around my MSc thesis. My challenge this year is to submit it to research publications and see what happens. But taking the spirit of curiosity I mentioned earlier, I’m bringing Rising Bubbles back and in the months ahead, you can expect to see updates on the latest in Japan’s scuba diving and aquaculture, opinions and lessons learned along the way.

Thank you for being here. 


January 2018: Japan’s Ice Diving Season

Definitely not for the faint hearted, ice diving is an extreme, adventurous activity that not many divers get to experience.  Those who do, however, find an underwater world like no other — a clear turquoise colour that’s unique to an under-ice environment, sunbeams that penetrate through the ice cracks and a feeling that you’ll never know what you might come across.

When it comes to ice diving, countries such as Russia or Canada may come to mind but the season is about to get underway in Japan, and I was delighted to see this two-page spread in the latest edition of Japan’s Marine Diving magazine, that explains what ice diving is all about and brought back some fun memories.

IMG_20180119_154803385Each winter off the northernmost island of Hokkaido, ice floes from Sibera are blown down across the Sea of Okhotsk, where they settle around the Shiretoko Peninsula, becoming more rounded as their edges soften.  It is here that the ice diving season begins, running in February and March.  While it’s possible to spot a few fish, most divers come to see the tiny, transparent sea angel or clione.  Besides the mesmerising layers of ice on the water surface, ice diving also provides other unique experiences..  Visibility is excellent, while particulate matter settles more easily thanks to the calm sea.  The rocky topography is also home to seagrass, crabs, starfish, shrimp and even tiny nudibranchs if you have a keen eye and are brave enough to withstand the -1C temperatures for long enough to keep looking.

Ice diving in Japan is more of a taster or introduction as opposed to a longer fun dive.  Most dives will usually be no deeper than 10m and for less than half an hour due to the extreme environment.  Non-Japanese divers who wish to try should ideally have some dry suit experience, an Advanced Open Water certification and most importantly, be able to speak some Japanese for safety reasons (briefings on safety measures and dive procedures will be detailed and strict).  If not, please make sure that you are accompanied by another diver who is able to translate on your behalf.

Dive shops on the Shiretoko Peninsula have become increasingly concerned about the lack of ice over the past couple of years, most likely due to climate change and global warming.  But the two-page spread in Marine Diving gave me a lot of hope, that ice diving is still possible after all.  If you’re a keen diver in Japan who speaks Japanese well enough and knows how to dive in a dry suit, I highly recommend this incredible underwater experience!

Click here to read about my ice diving adventure in February 2016: https://bonniewaycott.com/2016/04/06/february-2016-the-return-to-shiretoko-hokkaido-japan/

 

January 2018: Gearing up for Another Year

Friday January 12th, 2018

Happy New Year, and welcome to my first 2018 post written in the UK! I’ll be talking about the UK later but before that, this is a great moment to start looking back at 2017.

The year got off to a good start with a day of diving in Sydney after the famous New Year fireworks. Although not as glamorous as other parts of Australia like the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney has a good array of marine life and warm, comfortable water temperatures. I was impressed by the large number of dive spots that lie close to such a busy and exciting city. Our favourite find was this adorable baby cuttlefish during a shore dive near Manly.

I then spent a lot of time at a dive site near Tokyo that a friend introduced me to in 2016. Located close to the city of Odawara, Hayakawa Diving Service is about an hour away from Tokyo by direct train. I loved its close-knit community feel, the quaint little bay where all the dives were held and the independence of the instructor and dive masters. Divers were actively encouraged to find a buddy, plan a dive and dive the plan, unlike other shops in Japan where divers are simply shown around with not much opportunity to use their skills for themselves. Despite being so close to Tokyo, the marine life was incredibly varied and every dive brought new discoveries.

 

Women’s roles in society have been a hot topic and 2017 was no exception. In late 2016 I joined an NGO called Women 4 Oceans (http://women4oceans.weebly.com) and in May 2017 teamed up with another diver and ocean lady in Tokyo to organise a networking event (http://women4oceans.weebly.com/tokyo-event.html) for women working in marine-related fields. I was delighted with the opportunity to talk about my work and share my underwater photos. The event had over 40 participants and was a huge success, with plenty of inspiring talks and a solid group of women united by their love for the ocean.

In June 2017 my husband and I said farewell to Japan and returned to the UK to begin the next stage of our lives. This marked the start of an extremely hectic summer as 9 and 11 years’ worth of belongings started to arrive and we found a place to live in Bristol, all while dealing with the sadness of leaving Japan and learning to adjust to UK life. But as sad as it was to say goodbye to Japan, the UK is already bringing a host of marine-related opportunities. In September 2017 I spent two days at the National Dive and Activity Centre in Chepstow on a seahorse survey course run by the Seahorse Trust, a UK charity which studies seahorses and their habitats to educate the public and raise awareness of seahorse protection. We had two days of classroom sessions where we learned about seahorses, how to protect them, the role of divers and underwater surveys, and how to conduct such surveys underwater. Now that I’ve taken the course, I’ll be joining the instructor course in February 2018 to learn how to teach it to others, and take part in some survey dives along the south coast in summer 2018.

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I then delved into the UK dive scene even more when I travelled to Birmingham in October 2017 to attend DIVE, a 2-day annual event organized by UK magazine DIVER. Like the Marine Diving Fair in Tokyo, hundreds of exhibitors come together to offer training courses, dive gear and holiday packages, while divers can network and get diving tips and advice. As well as hearing a talk on freshwater diving, I met the staff of a dive shop in Plymouth, listened to a talk on UK shore and boat diving and saw some impressive underwater photos taken in UK waters.  October 2017 also saw the start of Blue Planet II on BBC 1. I was honoured to attend the premier in Bristol with the BBC Natural History Unit, and amazed by how much is going on in the UK when it comes to all things marine.

Later this month I will submit my MSc thesis on aquaculture and disaster management, specifically the recovery of aquaculture in Japan’s Tohoku region after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 and whether that can serve as an example to other countries with aquaculture industries that are vulnerable to natural disasters. Having set myself up as self-employed, my aquaculture and fisheries writing work is growing fast. This year I’ve been put in charge of a new series on women in aquaculture for 5M Publishing in the UK (https://thefishsite.com/articles/women-in-aquaculture-new-series-launched) and (https://thefishsite.com/articles/women-in-aquaculture-conchita-milburn), and in May 2018 the UK’s Mercator Media (World Fishing and Aquaculture) are sending me to Singapore for a 3-day offshore mariculture conference. My main goal this year, however, is to discover the UK diving scene and I’m excited about this next chapter and discovering a new kind of diving. Rising Bubbles will continue with a mix of UK diving and aquaculture reports, and the latest marine and diving updates from Japan.

Thank you for reading, and see you underwater!