The first salmon grown in Cermaq’s iFarm project have been processed and shipped to customers in Europe and Asia, the Oslo, Norway-headquartered producer has confirmed.

Launched in 2020, iFarm is a collaborative aquaculture innovation project between Cermaq, BioSort, and ScaleAQ

In a press release, Mitsubishi-owned Cermaq said the experimental iFarm had produced high-quality fish that were accepted by the market, an indication the health and welfare of the fish has been good in the facility’s net-pens.

The first iFarm fish were stocked in the Martnesvika sea site in autumn 2020. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, the system uses a closed pen with a narrow surface opening, forcing the farmed fish to travel through an image-capturing station that is able to identify individual salmon – enabling the monitoring of growth rates, lice count, and mortality rates inside the cages.

Cermaq’s iFarm project is planned to run over five years. In the first phase, the primary goal has been to ensure the iFarm equipment is properly tracking fish movement and behavior and ensuring their welfare.

“The fish behavior we have observed in phase one tells us that the fish is doing fine with the iFarm equipment in the pen,” Cermaq’s iFarm Project Manager Karl Fredrik Ottem said. “This is further supported by the results from the harvest. The fish has had a good life in the iFarm pens.”

The need for de-licing was reduced by 50 percent in the iFarm pens compared to the conventional pens on the site, and scoring of welfare indicators was good throughout the production, according to Cermaq. However, phase one showed the iFarm concept cannot be combined with ordinary underwater feeding equipment, and the harvest results showed there is a need for further development in this area.

Furthermore, Cermaq said that the first production also provided important experience in terms of solutions for integration between various main components of iFarm and how these should be further developed to improve handling operations and daily operations.

The first version of the iFarm sensor was also tested at the Martnesvika sea site. Cermaq said, through the testing process, the project had made advances in camera arrangement, lighting, and data processing, succeeding in creating a unique health record for each fish.

“Checking the fish in real time with cameras from multiple angles opens up [our ability to learn] more about each fish, but at the same time it requires a lot from the software and hardware solutions we develop,” BioSort General Manager Geir Stang Hauge said.

BioSort signed a partnership with Cermaq and farming equipment manufacturer ScaleAQ in 2019 and Cermaq was awarded four development licenses for the iFarm project in December of that year, giving it permits to operate the trial and to grow an additional 3,120 metric tons of salmon within the iFarm test program to offset the costs of the project. Cermaq has planned a five-year testing process for the iFarm project to prove its “individualized approach” to salmon farming can actually work.

Hauge previously told SeafoodSource he is optimistic about the chances for success, but acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the goal the development team is trying to achieve. BioSort’s image recognition technology is dependent on being able to identify individual salmon while they are swimming, using a similar approach as Tesla does for its self-driving technology.

“Tesla uses eight cameras around the car to ‘see’ the surroundings and take action. We are using similar technology around each of the openings the fish swims through,” he said. “In regard to the sensor alone, it is no question that it will be challenging. We are still in the early phases of developing it and it won’t take less than five years to get it right.”

BioSort expects to build improved prototypes each year of the project. Eventually, there will be nine models being tested at once – one for each of the nine net-pens allowed under the development permits. Currently, the the second phase of iFarm testing is taking place in Vesterålen, Norway, where an entire sea site has been equipped with iFarm setups in all pens. Vesterålen’s fish were stocked in the fall of 2021, and the project is now testing six different sensor houses with geometric designs to see which one works best. That, and other advances, will then be used in phase three of the project.

“We have learned a lot that we have already implemented in phase two, and we have received a number of answers that take us to the next step. An important part of the innovation work is to find out what works and what does not work,” Ottem said.

Photo courtesy of Cermaq

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