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A new project is using artificial intelligence to combat sea lice in the Norwegian fjords. Photo © Nyhetstjenester / FHL
Fish farmers in Norway are using some very special technology to fight the spread of parasites.
The country’s salmon producers have set up a new platform, “AquaCloud”, which can help to predict outbreaks of sea lice.
These tiny parasites are present in large numbers along the Norwegian coast, and the problem is estimated to cost the industry around a billion dollars a year.
By coming together and sharing anonymized data, fish farmers are hoping to develop better solutions to the lice problem.
The AquaCloud system seamlessly gathers data from an incredible 2,800 fish cages across 320 locations each day – equal to around 1.2 million data points each week.
The project, led by the NCE Seafood Innovation Cluster, uses artificial intelligence (AI) from IBM’s Watson platform to process this information.
Using custom-made algorithms, the system is able to predict lice outbreaks as early as two weeks before they happen.
The system then can present these results to farmers via a dashboard, giving them time to take vital counter-measures such as introducing cleaner fish, or other delousing techniques.
Björgólfur Hávarðsson at NCE Seafood believes that teamwork is the key to solving the sea lice problem. Photo © Vidar Langeland.
Teamwork across the industry
Björgólfur Hávarðsson, Innovation Manager at NCE Seafood, explains that the project doesn’t just extend to technology. It also aims to encourage teamwork across the sector.
“We realized that we weren’t communicating enough. If fish farmers come together to share knowledge and resources, we can stop the outbreak in one place before it spreads further.”
“Our salmon producers are really enthusiastic about the project, and so far we’ve signed up just under half of the industry in Norway, with several companies following us closely.”
The project represents a new way of operating for these companies, who are used to seeing one another as competitors.
Businesses are starting to realize that working together on common problems, such as sea lice, will give them a much higher chances of success.
The Norwegian fish farming industry is on the path to greater openness. Photo © Norwegian Seafood Council / Marius Fiskum.
Indeed, one of AquaCloud’s biggest achievements so far has been in creating a channel where firms can share information without revealing commercially sensitive data.
The partners are still working on the practicalities of sharing information, which comes in many forms and isn’t easily standardized. However, the industry is well on the way to achieving greater openness.
NCE Seafood is leading a range of data harmonization efforts, which have involved developing a new standard for underwater sensors, and another for how health data is processed.
These new standards will play a key role in enabling the flow of information throughout the sector.
The lice problem can be seen as a “test case”. If it is successful, there are possibilities for other programmes that use shared data to improve feeding, disease management and other areas.
As Hávarðsson notes, “We have the possibility to create a unique system of co‑operation here in Norway’s aquaculture industry.”
“We see that other sectors, as well as other countries, are watching this initiative very closely.”
The path to innovation
While this information is helpful for Norway’s largest salmon farmers, it could also provide a boost for smaller companies and researchers who are working on innovative projects.
Businesses can apply through the Ocean Innovation Catapult Centre (OINC) to use some of the data, along with the computing power of IBM Watson.
With access to this treasure trove of information, companies in Greater Bergen could come up with new insights that could help the salmon industry worldwide.
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