Today, the strongest driver of increased demand for fish is growth in affluence, specifically in China and Southeast Asia, where population is no longer growing, but consumption is, now that consumers can afford it . As the natural fish stocks are exploited to the maximum, the supply of this seafood demand can only be satisfied through increased aquaculture production. It is essential that this is done through best practices to ensure the sustainability of the industry. WA3RM has initiated partnerships with aquaculture projects with the intention to play an important role in the development of modern sustainable industrial scale food production systems. We initially looked at it from the point of efficient energy use. Industrial waste, such as surplus heat, as well as CO2 and sludge are most often seen as costly problem s. We look at them as very valuable resources. What we have realized though is that sustainable aquaculture must address more than this. The understanding of how the industry affects biodiversity is a necessity if we should develop land-based RAS as an alternative and as a complement to commercial fishing and off-shore aquaculture.
By making use of huge waste heat streams from large scale industry we will be able to invite fish farm operators to establish land-based operations in geographical areas previously not considered suitable . This will enable an all-year optimal production of several warm water species even higher up in the colder parts of the Nordic countries. WA3RM intends to assess any potential operator of fish farms at any of our project sites through a biodiversity and sustainability screening. This is one way to direct the aquaculture industry to think in a more structured manner to address the different sustainability impacts from the production, including the impacts from up- and down-stream activities . Such an assessment must of course also address the biodiversity related issues.
One of the major negative impacts of fish farming on biodiversity is that which is caused away from the farm operations, in the fish feed sector. Most of the commercially farmed species use formulated feed produced by the big feed manufacturers. All fish feed must be a complete feed with low feed conversion ratio to support healthy fish with a fast growth, minimizing volumes needed and effluent volumes produced . Most of the fish species farmed are carnivorous species and a portion of their feed must be based on fishmeal. This fish meal is to a large extent dependent on fishing of smaller pelagic species by large commercial fishing vessels. Such fishing is negatively affecting the biodiversity, as it is exploiting the wild stocks of fish that is part of the food chain of larger wild fish species and marine mammals. An additional biodiversity issue is that of by-catch of non-targeted species. It can be a direct threat to those species, but it could also mean that it is taking away a resource that could be used directly for human consumption . By discussing with operators and feed manufacturers/suppliers we aim to support the continuous improvement in feed quality for best possible feed conversion ratio and trying to minimize the content of fishmeal-based ingredients.
We will also promote farming of alternative species for lower trophic level aquaculture, species that do not need the inclusion of feed ingredients from fish meal. This will need a change in consumer awareness and acceptance of non-traditional food-fish species, and it will only happen over time.
We know there will be different biodiversity consequences depending on what source the protein/oil will come from. By minimizing the need for fish meal in the diet the industry will create an increased demand for replacement ingredients from the terrestrial ecosystem. This necessary crop production will need huge areas under cultivation which might convert ecologically sensitive areas and farmland used for traditional agriculture into mono-crop environments with the use of pesticides. An article in Nature ( A 20-year review global aquaculture, 24 March 2021), mentions that feed accounts for more than 90% of the environmental impact from fed aquaculture production.
With the aim to create a more circular economy that supports biodiversity, we will also seek opportunities for valorisation of generated waste streams from the fish farm projects (nutrient rich sludge and processing waste) by connecting with other production entities i.e., algae farming and insect farming aiming for an increased replacement of protein and oils in fish feed away from fishmeal.
Another threat to biodiversity is the risk of farmed fish populations escaping and mixing with the natural populations, as is often the case with large cage farming operations . This will not be a risk with our projects as the operators will only farm in totally closed land-based systems. Th is means there will be no risk of introduction of new exotic species either. The operators will have their own breeding and hatchery operation, or alternatively will purchase egg/larvae/fingerlings from suppliers that are certified disease-free. Efficient filtration systems will remove almost all nutrients to minimize negative impacts to the receiving ecosystem and the biodiversity . Sterilization units will ensure that the effluent will not release any pathogens/parasites that can affect the natural fish stocks , and there will be no use of medication or hormones that could have a detrimental e ffect on the organisms in the recipient.
Our project for large-scale indoor RAS for shrimp culture will also address the stress on the natural environment . With the closed intensive systems, we will be able to minimize the physical footprint and we will not establish projects in any ecologically sensitive areas. In this way, we will help lessen some of the problematic land use issues in the tropical areas where the species is predominantly farmed , where it in many instances has led to physical habitat damage along large coastal areas.
WA3RM has created a novel business model that through industrial symbiosis can support operators that meet our sustainability criteria with investment finance based on their own production design needs. WA3RM will develop the project, finance, and build the infrastructure based on the operator’s specific requirements, including the infrastructure needed for the most efficient utiliz ation of the waste streams from the project processes . The WA3RM Developer Fund will own the real assets being infrastructure and real estate, while the professional operator will take full responsibility for the operations and pay a monthly rent.