A new digital platform that will collect and interpret fish farm data in Scotland to provide actionable insights for the industry is being developed following the award of a GBP 250,000 (USD 347,229, EUR 289,500) to a consortium of research partners.

Led by Glasgow-based satellite communications start-up R3-IoT, the project will involve the group developing a software system that automatically captures large amounts of continuous sensor data across aquaculture sites in one place, where it can be processed, stored, and acted upon.

The platform will be developed in parallel with R3-IoT’s satellite communications solution. 

R3-IoT CEO and Co-Founder Allan Cannon said the technology will help fish farmers understand operations across different sites and locations wherever they are, providing them with increased visibility, improved quality of, and access to timely information.

“Aquaculture has ambitious plans to deliver sustainable growth and data can be a key enabler for the sector. But having data is only the first step – you also have to unlock its potential, which is what the digital platform we are developing through this project will deliver,” Cannon said.

The concept behind the data platform has been informed by the research R3-IoT conducted as part of an initial feasibility study, interviewing more than 30 senior members of the fish farming sector, Cannon said.

“It will closely reflect what the sector has told us it needs,” Cannon said. “We have a great consortium working on this project, taking in a range of expertise and skills, and – having demonstrated the high reliability of the platform during a trial with a major salmon producer – we believe the results could be very high-impact.”

The project has been funded by the Seafood Innovation Fund, with support from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC); Northern Light, the aquaculture consultancy; The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation center for data science and AI; CENSIS, Scotland’s innovation center for sensing, imaging systems, and Internet of Things technologies; Edinburgh Napier University; the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture; and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO).

Once developed, the new digital platform will enable organizations to regularly share environmental and operational data with regulators, supply chain companies, researchers, and other stakeholders to enhance efficiency and transparency, while reducing risks and associated costs.

The initial feasibility study conducted by R3-IoT to gauge the level of connectivity and digitization in the aquaculture sector found very few of Scotland’s 169 active seawater finfish sites are digitally enhanced or fitted with any smart sensors feeding live data back to producers.

In the same survey, fish farmers highlighted several obstacles to the adoption of new digital technologies. The single most significant challenge was around the availability and quality of connectivity.

SAIC CEO Heather Jones believes the new digital tool could bring another level of intelligence to aquaculture, allowing site teams to understand conditions on site even if they are working remotely.

Using sensor data, they could, for instance, identify issues with a particular area of the farm being affected by tidal influx with increased levels of plankton and chlorophyll, she said.

“Fish farmers will be able to decide the metrics and parameters that matter to them. When industry professionals see this in action, they may want to take it further and could even explore concepts such as preventative maintenance type models. Rather than sending an engineer to inspect a machine every month or so, they will be able to plan inspections when they are required, saving time and resource,” Jones said. “Ultimately, it could be a powerful tool for fish farmers, helping them to enhance fish health and wellbeing, work with stakeholders, and potentially improve transparency – all of which can contribute to the sector’s sustainable growth.”

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