Europe’s fish farming industry needs space to grow to meet increasing global demand. Moving to the vast farming space of the ocean is one option. Water quality is also better offshore as there is dense fish farming activity inshore. Taking the business into the ocean brings with it a whole new series of challenges, including dealing with the harsh weather conditions of the open seas. The EU-funded OpenOceanFC project set out to tackle the issue through a patented fish cage large enough to be commercially viable and robust enough to deal with waves as high as 10 m. Norway’s experience with oil platforms helped the project build on its concept for offshore fish farming. The pre-pilot study covered optimum concept, a business plan, pilot planning and execution. Successful pilot: a recipe for success “Our objective is to be engaged in offshore farming together with partners and farmers – activities being development, construction, operations and services,” says coordinator Rolf Solberg. “We aim to develop attractive packages for farmers and project partners. A successful pilot is a must for future success.” According to Solberg, a successful offshore concept will open large areas for fish farming in Norway and other regions. “Our concept benefits from the Norwegian oil industry and maritime competences. We simplify and adjust it to farming, define the additional development needed, look at construction and maritime activities, and consider business issues and profitability. A pilot is needed, and a full-scale pilot is being planned.” Key to OpenOceanFC is developing a large fish cage, one designed to house and nurture as many as 1.5 million salmon. With a diameter of about 130 m, the cage is in itself a challenge, much larger than traditional fish cages. Much of the structure is made of concrete that has provided lower long-term costs in similar oil and gas projects. The larger cage size will provide economies of scale in operation, such as spreading the cost of automation technology. The fish cage provides a calm living environment for the fish through a wind- and wave-breaker and tension anchoring. The openings of the breaker will be designed for optimum welfare and operation conditions. Grasping business matters Solberg stresses that the most significant outcome of the project was an improved concept of safety, fish welfare, cost and competitiveness, and a better understanding of business issues. “The goal is large-scale successful offshore operations to be better prepared for entering into a full-scale pilot,” he explains, adding “there are still many challenging issues to be solved, such as dealing with extreme weather and providing good fish welfare.” A feasible plan would cover concept/equipment, construction/assembly, tow out/anchoring and farming operations, and financing. Solberg says OpenOceanFC identified some new areas for improvement and potential new patents. OpenOceanFC is planning the pilot together with a large Norwegian fish farmer. Norwegian authorities are currently weighing their decision on a permit for pilot development. A successful pilot opens up opportunities and new large areas for farming that is safe, environmentally friendly and includes fish welfare. What is more, it will hopefully be an automated and largely robotised operation in the future. “We need a concept attractive to farmers that provides stability, suitable fish welfare and easy hook-up on location,” concludes Solberg.
OpenOceanFC, fish, fish farming, fish cage