Aquaculture production is a key component supporting global food security. However, the industry maintains a conventional focus with limited transparency, and aquaculture farm activities contribute to environmental degradation. In light of these issues, the space has recently witnessed increasing support for infrastructure development and technology innovation from governments and technology funds, including Hatch and Aqua-Spark.
A majority of innovators focus on developing farm management and sensing solutions to maximize aquaculture production efficiency and sustainability. As it stands, the aquaculture innovation landscape is fragmented, and navigating this space for potential opportunities with maximum impact can be difficult.
To help guide you toward opportunities within the sustainable aquaculture technology landscape, we have identified five technology groups: aquaculture systems, environmental management, feed management, health management, and supply chain management. Monitoring solutions take many form factors (e.g., robotics, cameras, remote sensing, point-of-use sensing) but are critical to translating sustainable practices to quantifiable, valuable outcomes.
Below, we identify and analyze key developers to define emerging trends in aquaculture innovation and provide insights on how to engage in the space.
Aquaculture innovation is not exclusive to a particular region.
Aquaculture production is centralized in the Asia-Pacific region. APAC accounts for nearly 90%, with the major producers including China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Norway, Chile, and Egypt also support concentrated production efforts. However, current innovation efforts span the globe, as governments are providing increasing support to the industry's environmental and financial sustainability.
In the U.S., the Senate has revisited the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act to support the development of an offshore aquaculture industry in federal waters. International collaboration is also extending aquaculture expertise to boost the sector, as seen in Norway's recent cooperative agreement with Vietnam.
Landscape is dominated by small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).
While SMEs are responsible for a majority of innovation effort, research institutes and universities also support technology development. The aquaculture industry remains relatively young, although it grew more than 527% from 1990 to 2018. Growth has not been consistent globally and is focused in areas where high-value fish are more easily produced and consumers make aquatic organisms a larger part of their diet.
Among the technology sectors, environmental management is the most commonly developed followed by feed management, which are often intertwined. Food can have a negative impact on water quality if not managed properly.
Supply chain management is the latest opportunity for aquaculture innovation.
Traceability is growing as a priority in aquaculture production and driving development around new solutions to ensure species identity and quality, as well as communicating the farming practices employed. Collaboration between the innovators and aquaculture producers may drive adoption, as seen in the partnership between SSP (a consortium of Ecuador shrimp farming companies promoting sustainability within global seafood markets) and the IBM Food Trust.
1. System design:
Aquaculture system developers continue to focus on high-value high-demand species, such as salmonids, but innovators are beginning to explore opportunities around species diversification. This includes modular recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) (e.g., Alpha Aqua), co-culture approaches (e.g., growing macroalgae and shellfish in a single system), and nonfish species like macroalgae and shellfish (e.g., Catalina Sea Ranch).
Systems supporting offshore production are reinventing net pens that can be lowered into deeper waters. These pens are better oxygenated and less susceptible to parasites that are normally found at shallow depths (e.g., Innovasea), or water is being pumped from these areas to enclosed systems. Irish company Impact-9 stands out with its flexible containment solutions that use elastomeric and synthetic fiber materials to better withstand ocean currents.
2. Environmental management:
Environmental monitoring, especially for water quality, is a core component of aquaculture management and is currently where the bulk of innovation activity exists. Water quality lies at the heart of disease prevention and improved production. Startups are developing IoT systems and sensors capable of detecting changes in the water's temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter levels. The key differentiating factor is in having a reliable sensor network that aligns with important value propositions like early warning.
German startup HydroNeo recently received funding from Thai Union's venture fund to build out its system that allows shrimp farmers to remotely control up to seven different sensors and automate water quality analyses. Other recent innovations for environmental management include satellite remote sensing (e.g., Dynaspace) and drone use (Seasmart), which are promising given advances in R&D around artificial intelligence for water observation.
3. Feed management:
Feed is a significant cost associated with aquaculture production; excess feeding robs profit margins and is a major issue for maintaining water quality. Monitoring feeding practices can be very difficult and can vary based on the aquatic species. Given this, feed monitoring platforms tend to focus on livestock behavior and growth estimation by applying machine vision and sensor integration, typically video feed.
The sector is experiencing interesting plays toward acquisitions for data and training algorithms. For instance, Bluegrove, which is the parent company of CageEye, recently acquired Sealab to combine its system's behavioral analysis of an entire fish population with individual monitoring.
4. Health management:
Innovation in disease diagnosis includes mixed-technology platforms that use sensors and image pattern recognition software to monitor physiology either in real-time or to accompany health assessment. One particular innovator, Manolin, based in Bergen, Norway, develops machine vision hardware and a data analysis software tool to forecast risk of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) and pancreas disease (PD) in salmon. The company claims its platform integrates data on live disease outbreak reports, oceanographic forecasts, marine sensors, boat traffic, and marine activity across Norway and has a prediction accuracy level of more than 93%. Other major health focus areas in aquaculture production are identifying the presence of parasites; for example, Aquabyte's platform is capable of detecting sea lice.
5. Supply chain management:
Growing consumer demand for increased traceability is driving developers of omnichannel platforms and marketplaces that facilitate transactions within the aquaculture supply chain. Players like Aquaconnect and XpertSea are offering data collection and software systems that enable farmers to provide a digital identity of their livestock (i.e., weight distribution, site location, fish age, etc.) and improve integrity within the farm.
Other players, including IBM Food Trust and Atea, are offering blockchain- and ledger-based platforms to support ownership transactions. The scalability of these solutions is limited by the adoption of aquaculture producers and still suffers from limited demonstration of ROI. It is important to note that the U.S., through NOAA Fisheries, is undertaking its own digital transparency solution for the aquatic supply chain.
Aquaculture innovation will continue to grow as the industry expands. Innovation will be driven by increased traceability and transparency to track environmental sustainability and animal health and increase consumer interest in aquatic products as a food source. Digital transformation is industry-agnostic, and aquaculture remains largely conventional, but given additional investment, monitoring technologies improving efficiency and reducing impacts show promise.
More specifically, managing feed remains the key cost and impact driver for system innovation. Computer vision offers good opportunities to unlock insights into animal behavior, saving costs lost to resource use and fish mortality from disease.
Those interested should identify partners with multiparameter sensors and communication systems that translate data into actionable insights. For system innovation, RAS remains a growing but risky aquaculture production option, but clients should see the long-term potential of this aquaculture model. Expect continued development for near- and offshore aquaculture.