Overcoming aquaculture’s pollution challenges

Aquaculture, or fish farming, is the fastest growing form of food production globally, according to the Financial Times. Yet, despite the industry’s rapid expansion, there are increasing concerns about antimicrobial resistance and environmental pollution. Here, Etienne Clauw, associate product line manager for remote telemetry units (RTUs) at Ovarro, explains how RTUs, such as the TBox LT2 RTU, can help the aquaculture industry address these pollution challenges.

A report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), Veterinary antimicrobials in Europe's environment: a One Health perspective, has stressed the critical need for enhanced monitoring of antimicrobial residues in aquatic ecosystems. Antimicrobial residues in water can harm aquatic life and help create drug-resistant bacteria that are dangerous to both animals and humans.

These efforts can align with the European Union’s (EU) objective to halve the unnecessary administering of antimicrobial drugs — such as antibiotics — to animals and fish that are raised for human consumption. Indeed, the EU aims to halve the use of antimicrobials in farmed animals and aquaculture by 2030, based on 2018’s levels. While reductions have been achieved, more must be done.

For the aquaculture industry, enhanced monitoring can lead to a better understanding of the use of antimicrobials and the measures needed to reduce their use, identify pollution hotspots and assess potential impacts on humans, animals and the environment.

Various technologies can play a key role. Combining biosensors and integrated monitoring systems with remote telemetry units enables real-time, remote monitoring of antimicrobial residues in farming and fish farming. Biosensors detect specific antimicrobial compounds, and RTUs wirelessly transmit this data to centralised platforms for immediate analysis.

These advanced monitoring systems enable continuous, real-time data collection and transmission from aquaculture sites, providing critical insights into the levels of antimicrobial residues in aquatic environments. However, they require careful planning, maintenance, and consideration of costs and data security. Integration can be complex plus an initial setup cost — but these factors can be reduced with the support of a remote telemetry specialist.

Better feeding

RTUs are already widely used in the aquaculture industry, such as to help monitor and control feeding practices. This is crucial for the profitability and environmental sustainability of aquaculture businesses. For example, in Tasmania, Ovarro’s RTUs are used to monitor and regulate food distribution in ponds, which ensures the correct amount of food is provided and minimises waste.

In another example, Vin Hoan, a respected fish farming company based in Vietnam, wished to avoid the problem of incorrect feeding, which can have detrimental impacts on both the environment and the bottom line of aquaculture operations.

It turned to Ovarro in partnership with Phap Tri Technology (PTT), a local automation systems integrator, to address these challenges by deploying the TBox LT2 RTU throughout Vin Hoan’s networks. The TBox LT2 acts as a local process controller, managing valves, pumps, and the fish feeding process. It monitors water quality and regulates the flow of fresh water through fish farms, which creates an optimal environment for fish growth.

At set intervals, the RTU activates feeders to supply controlled volumes of food, ensuring the correct amount is provided during each feeding session. Additionally, the LT2 maintains a local historian and reports key information to a central server. PTT has developed a mobile app that allows operators to monitor their investments in real time. Maintenance crews can also receive alerts to mechanical failures or water quality issues, enabling faster responses and minimising negative impacts.

The implementation of Ovarro’s TBox LT2 RTU, combined with PTT’s mobile app, has enabled operators to manage more fish farms more efficiently, optimising strategies for product quality. There has been a noticeable reduction in response times to onsite faults, reducing downtime and maintaining a higher quality environment for fish growth. This efficiency has allowed operators to increase their production capacity, thereby improving profit margins.

As aquaculture continues to grow, addressing its pollution challenges is imperative. By employing RTUs, such as the TBox LT2, fish farmers can enhance the surveillance of water quality and detect pollution hotspots more effectively.

As with the example of Vin Hoan, innovative control and monitoring technologies like RTUs can help address the challenges in aquaculture related to antimicrobial resistance and environmental pollution. These enhanced monitoring systems can also support compliance with the EU’s objectives to halve antimicrobial use in aquaculture by 2030, ultimately promoting sustainable fish farming practices and protecting both public health and ecosystems.

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