The market for fish is growing at an exponential rate. However, European catches in particular have dropped in recent years and the current supply of fish is not enough to meet market demand. Furthermore, as a result of near depletion of certain European fishery stocks, reduced annual catch quotas, and reduced fishing fleets, the European Union (EU) Member States are becoming increasingly dependent on imports from third countries.
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ClosedFishCage is a project aimed at alleviating this situation. The €1,110,433 Research Framework Programme 7 (FP7) funded project will not only improve the competitiveness of SMEs in the aquaculture sector but also safeguard the potential production of good quality fish, in sufficient quantities, at competitive prices.
With a start date of 1st September 2009, the ClosedFishCage project was focused on the development of a closed, escape proof, constant volume, sea-based cage for fish farming. Among the project’s innovative elements are a highly durable and flexible polymer plastic net pen, a predator guard, a control system, easy set-up and replacement of damaged cage parts.
"Our solution is in essence an environmentally friendly closed cage solution for fish farming," says Alexander Solbakken, Managing Director of Plastsveis AS, the lead company that specialises in aquaculture technology. "The cage is made from recyclable material and ensures continued supply of water and minimises fish farm production risks, especially those posed by predators like wild fish or seals and parasites such as sea lice."
"The technological solutions involved in the cage have all the benefits of land-based fish farming while taking advantage of the cost efficiency of sea-based fish farming," he adds.
These cost savings are estimated at up to €25.000 per installation due to the fact that open net sea cages have no need for chemical-based cleaning methods. Moreover, thousands of tonnes of organic waste could be re-used for the production of biogas.
Results have been impressive. The ClosedFishCage Team produced 100 salmon in a first non-commercial prototype over a period of six months. Their growth was similar to that of other salmon kept in open cages in the same farm at the same time of the year. However, in order to fight sea lice infestation, the open cages had to be cleaned on a regular basis. The closed cages did not require any such maintenance which is the main reason ClosedFishCage "is expected to be economically advantageous."
The consortium is coordinated by Norwegian company, Plastsveis and is supported by specialist maritime companies and non for profit institutions in Norway, Italy, Denmark and Spain. The project looks set to continue with work expected to start on developing a commercial prototype for further technological and biological testing. In fact, it has already received a five-year research license from the Norwegian Government to hold a 780-tonne fish stock.
Solbakken estimates that ClosedFishCage will actually enter the market in 2015 and it comes as no surprise to learn that he is very much looking forward to this happening. "The potential is huge," he says. "The Norwegian market alone represents approximately 65% of the total production of Atlantic salmon in the world."
Asked about ClosedFishCage's future, Solbakken points to even bigger and better. "By 2015, we want to have developed bigger closed constructions that are built on the same principles as the test model, which are optimal strength, flotation and water exchange."