Treatment of sea lice, which have a detrimental effect on marine ecosystems, fish health and welfare, is one of the greatest challenges in salmon farming.
DeBug by Green Sealice Solutions is a pioneering sea lice treatment technology for mechanical de-lousing of salmon, without chemicals or medical intervention. “Our goal is to vastly improve fish welfare and increase efficiency of mechanical de-lousing,” says CEO Frode Ramvik.
DeBug is a modular system and is extremely friendly to both salmon and the wider environment. It is built on three key principles:
- Unparalleled efficiency/ removal results;
- Operational flexibility; and
- Exceptionally low stress and mortality rates for the fish, resulting in better growth.
The technology is being developed through a consortium composed of Green Sealice Solutions AS and Skamik AS, two Norwegian companies with years of experience in the salmon and sea lice removal and treatment methods. In 2012, Skamik developed the first prototype of a mechanical de-lousing system, which is now patented and sold worldwide.
The project is also one of the select few companies in Europe to receive an EU Horizon 2020 SME Phase 2 development grant for 2019. Frode Ramvik says it was a special moment for everyone involved when the results were announced, adding: “We have worked so hard for so long on building the best solution there is. Being awarded an EU SME Phase 2 grant is not only important because of the project funding, but it means that a panel of industry experts and investors see a strong demand in the market, a clear business case; and a dedicated team they believe can achieve something great.”
A struggling industry and the dilemma of unprecedented growing demand
Ramvik also emphasises the importance of new and innovative long term solutions in order to secure both profitability and new sources of food globally. Norway, the largest salmon producer in the world, saw its total harvest quantity decrease by 63,000 tonnes in whole fish equivalent in the period 2016-2017. Scotland reports a shocking annual growth in the share of farms affected by sea lice, which has increased from 28% to 49% in only one year.
Aquaculture is a major industry in the EU: production already exceeds 97 million metric tons (live weight), while the value of international aquaculture trade amounts to $157bn (€141.38bn). Aquaculture in Europe is responsible for more than 88,000 jobs within some 14,000 businesses; and produces almost 50% of the world’s fish protein destined for human consumption.
While salmon production has been increasing by around 9% CAGR since 1994, annual growth has fallen to 10% in the last years (2007-2017) and projections show a further decrease to 3% between 2017-2021.
The central reason for this is that the industry has reached production levels where biological constraints are halting further expansion, as intensive salmon farming provides better conditions for marine parasite growth and transmission. Sea lice are one of the greatest marine parasite challenges. The sea lice problem is a biological limiting factor for the development of the salmon farming industry, which in Norway alone poses additional costs to fish farmers of €500m annually.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recognises aquaculture as a key future protein source, as global food supply must increase by 70% by 2050 to meet growing demand. Global aquaculture production volumes are estimated to rise 61.9% by 2030, with an estimated 37.5% growth in Europe. Today’s solutions cannot even cope with today’s production volumes and are also struggling to meet new animal welfare regulations.
DeBug: Delousing-as-a-service combining fish welfare, flexibility and efficiency
In 2018, Green Sealice Solutions prototyped a treatment new system paralysing the sea lice. The system was tested at Nofima’s world leading aquaculture lab. The results showed immediate paralysis of the sea lice, enabling us to increase efficiency whilst maintaining good fish welfare.
The technology has since been further developed and Green Sealice Solutions can now offer the ‘Delousing-as-a-service’ concept with the following features:
- Sea lice removal without chemicals or medical treatment and without having to severely affect the welfare indicators negatively;
- Preliminary tests demonstrated sea lice removal up to 100% in salmons between 0.6Kg to 10kg;
- Modular system, which can easily be extended to reach a capacity of 270 tonnes;
- Fast equipment with a capacity of 80-120 tonnes per hour;
- Flexible installation, suitable for boats, barges and fixed installations. We will install DeBug on small electric vessels/barges in order to benefit from agile movements and provide 100% environmentally friendly solutions;
- Reliable solution with no heavy machinery that may cause operational shutdown;
- Compatible with other salmon delousing operations, such as sorting, splitting and moving of salmon;
- Extremely low levels of stress on salmons and minimal mortality rate (0.08%): this will be further improved by including an in-house developed treatment that paralyse sea lice without affecting fish welfare; and
- Environmentally friendly solution installed on small service vessels equipped with standalone electricity generators allows for a very versatile workboat and cost farmers a lot less.
However, the innovations do not stop there, according to Frode Ramvik: “We are building our solutions on a very strong technology platform, and continuously look for ways of improving the service. Teaming up with Artificial Intelligence firm ‘Sentient’, we believe that merging traditional solutions with AI and Big Data will be another important leap forward for the industry.”
Building a forward-thinking team
Green Sealice Solutions have also partnered up on the business development side in order to accelerate growth and leverage a much shorter time to market. The Norwegian investment company Moment is an in-house accelerator of high potential early growth companies, according to Moment CEO Espen Tungesvik, who says: “Our business model is based on the fact that there are many good ideas, companies and good people in Southern Norway, but that many of them either do not have growth expertise or have the financial backbone to grow on their own. We have gradually built up a team of diverse knowledge and expertise that we actively allocate to our 15 portfolio companies every single day. Green Sealice Solutions is the perfect example of a game-changing technology and product we can help commercialise.”
According to Frode Ramvik, the opportunities and challenges faced by the industry can be summarised as follows:
- Farmed fish will overtake traditional fisheries by volume;
- Sea lice is the single greatest threat to the multi-billion aquaculture industry; and
- The need for delousing can never be eliminated and will only increase as the industry expands.
We see a window of opportunity now, not only for our own business model, but for the whole industry. For too long we have put off tough decisions on how to better delouse fish without resorting to chemicals. Finally, legislation on fish welfare and environmental issues have caught up with this; the way ahead is through challenging the old ideas and working together for the greater good.
Green Sealice Solutions AS