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RAS aquaculture: ensuring fish welfare throughout their life cycle

Michelle Tzhori | China General Manager

13.02.2022


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Fish welfare is an important factor in achieving the global goal of promoting biodiversity, influencing both human health and sustainability. The wellbeing of fish, their growth performance, and overall life cycle are constantly impacted by their habitat, including factors such as water chemistry, dissolved gasses, biomass density, feed quality, and other stressors.  Meanwhile, we are also dealing with a growing population that increasingly demands healthy, traceable food and protein.

The aquaculture industry currently faces the challenge of ensuring fish welfare, while producing enough fish to meet global demand – a challenge that leading developer of advanced RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture System) technology and land-based fish production facilities, AquaMaof, is meeting head-on.

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Putting fish welfare at the forefront

AquaMaof’s unique RAS technology enables fish farming close to markets, producing a fresh, nutritious, high-quality product that is rich in protein, without further depleting the oceans. To complete the sustainability picture, throughout the growing process, we put great emphasis on fish welfare.

Animal welfare has been a hot topic in recent years, largely centered around industrialized animal farming and food production communities. Despite the high-volume production required to meet the ever-growing demand for quality protein, the needs of animals – their rearing conditions during the farming cycle, their mental and physical health, and physiological responses to their environment – must be safeguarded.

When we at AquaMaof develop and design our technology, processes, equipment, and protocols, we put an emphasis on optimal rearing conditions and other important aspects of fish welfare, while constantly weighing up the associated costs against the potential benefits.

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A tailored ecosystem

Our RAS technology creates a unique ecosystem tailored to the needs of the specific fish species being grown. Taking fish health into account throughout their life cycle at the facility, we ensure that high welfare standards are embedded into the system design in terms of water chemistry, system stability, biomass density, feed management, oxygen delivery, CO2 extraction, and more.

We also support the control of exposure to pathogens and stress minimization. This results in the high survival rates and optimum growth achieved at AquaMaof facilities, which practice strict biosecurity protocols, and it is even more rewarding then these high survival rates and growth are achieved without the use of antibiotics or treatment chemicals. The strictly controlled rearing conditions and production parameters are adjusted by the facility operators in real-time, which enables optimization in the face of changing circumstances.

A research-based solution

Through our ongoing research and development activities at our R&D facilities in Israel and Poland, we have been exploring the link between production parameters, facility performance, and fish welfare. Our observation of fish behavior patterns highlights the fragile balance between key production parameters and fish performance, providing valuable insight into how to optimize fish welfare while maintaining efficient economical business models.

Knowing that high biomass densities impact fish performance, we identify the optimal fish biomass at each fish size interval throughout the production cycle, in order to achieve the best fish performance while safeguarding fish welfare.

Similarly, having concluded that some processes during the grow-out phase – such as the use of pumps for fish transportation between tanks – expose the fish to significant stress, we have developed gentle, low-stress means of handling fish and general stock management, striving as much as possible to minimize the use of stressful fish pumps.

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Biosecurity control

To further safeguard fish health, at AquaMaof facilities we promote some of the strictest biosecurity protocols as we strive to create an environment free from specific pathogens. In this way, a RAS facility provides an environment less challenging than many found in nature, where pollution, bacteria, or pathogens cannot be kept out or managed. For example, all goods – specifically biological materials such as fertilized eggs and fish – are isolated and tested for a substantial observational period prior to testing and stocking into or within the facility’s production departments.

Maintained throughout the entire life cycle of the fish, biosecurity control is fundamental in every aspect of system management and operation, and invaluable to the success of industrial RAS, helping us, as a major driver of this industry, to maintain a clean and healthy system, product and environment. By taking full control of all key production parameters, we are able to curb, diagnose and quickly act when an infection occurs. What’s more, having created a controlled, specific pathogen-free environment, there is no need to vaccinate the fish (as is usually required in the industry), and so we also eliminate this source of stress.

Eliminating risks

AquaMaof RAS technology enables to recreate of the natural environment as closely as possible, eliminating pollution, risk of bacteria or pathogens that might normally occur. We also eliminate many challenges and hazards that fish would normally face in nature: there is no risk of predation; temperatures are optimal for each fish size, regardless of weather and climatic events; and there is no exposure to redundant risks, such as discarded nets that may be left behind. In this way, we are able to create a high-quality source of protein in a safe, stable environment.

 

A balanced solution

The insights we have gained from our years of ongoing research, and the measures we have consequently implemented, enable us to both achieve increased performance and maximized economic results, and fulfill our duty to maintain a healthy, minimal-stress environment for fish, where their welfare is safeguarded from egg to harvest.

When it comes to the potentially conflicting interests of fish welfare, meeting global demand for protein, and profitability, AquaMaof’s RAS technology provides a balanced and sustainable solution.


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