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November | December 2013 Pellet distribution modelling: a tool for improved feed delivery in sea cages

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The International magazine for the aquaculture feed industry

FEATURE

Pellet distribution modelling: a tool for improved feed delivery in sea cages
by K R Skøien1,4, M O Alver1,2,3, M Føre1,2,4 T Solvang-Garten2,4, T S Aas3,4, T E Åsgård3,4 and J A Alfredsen1,4

A

bout 50 percent of the costs related to farming of salmon and rainbow trout are spent on feed (Fiskeridirektoratet, 2012), and the estimated feed loss from commercial sites is 5-7 percent (Cromey et al., 2002; Gjøsæter et al., 2008). This amounts to a considerable annual economic loss for the farmer. Lost feed may also have negative impacts on the marine environment through accumulation of organic waste on the seabed as well as being an attractor of wild fish. Wild fish aggregations may influence local pollution conditions around farms, and represent a potential vector for the transfer of diseases between farms (Dempster et al., 2009). Moreover, the way the feed is delivered in present-day large cages, and the resulting spatiotemporal distribution of pellets inside the cage, will influence the fish’s access to food and may cause inter-individual competition in case of suboptimal delivery. The latter

can lead to physically damaging encounters between fish, increased stress, less welfare and greater spread in size across the fish population. Furthermore, feed utilization is highest at high feed intake (Einen et al., 1995; Einen et al., 1999), and thus, suboptimal feed intake results in loss of fish biomass. Reducing feed loss and controlling the distribution and rate of feeding more accurately could therefore give considerable economic, environmental and welfare benefits for the fish farming operation.

Factors affecting pellets
As a basis for evaluating potential actions to improve the situation, a better understanding of the complex dynamics taking place in the cage during feeding must be obtained. The motion of a feed pellet is influenced by a range of factors from the point where it enters the feed spreader until it is either eaten by fish or escapes the cage.

Some factors depend on the properties and configuration of the feeding machinery, and others on the physical properties of the feed itself, as well as environmental forces such as wind, water current and fish induced water motion. A basic mathematical model calculating the spatiotemporal distribution of feed in a sea cage was developed by Alver et al. (2004). In the current work, this model has been further developed and now accounts for a more realistic representation of the physical feed properties, the feed spreader, wind field, water current and the feeding behaviour of the fish. The model, in conjunction with a suitable user interface and visualisation tools, can hopefully serve both as a simulation framework for developing more optimal feeding regimes and as an aid to the farmer to control the feeding more precisely. That is, by providing more detailed real time information on how the feed distributes in the cage that

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 1: This particular simulation is based on a 120 m circumference circular cage, populated by 250 000 fish with an average weight of 1 kg. The model is run with a cell size of 1x1x1 m, a 2 cm/s horizontal constant current field, a pellet sink rate of 10 cm/s. Top: Pellet density at 1, 4 and 8 m depth at 15 min. Bottom: Cross-sectional view at 5, 15 and 30 min

Figure 2: Image captured from a simulation of a combined pellet distribution model and fish behaviour model. The black lines are the cage structure, the black and silver lines each represent a number of fish, and the dark cloud is feed, just released into the cage

24 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | November-December 2013

FEATURE is commonly unavailable by traditional means, such as subsea cameras. These experiments were conducted to determine the natural spread or diffusion inherent to the pellets, and further experiments to quantify the speed and variations in the vertical motion of pellets in the water column are planned. The final results of these experiments will be incorporated into the model, and preliminary results suggest that the physical properties of pellets have a substantial influence on their hydrodynamic properties. To validate the model, a full-scale experiment is planned at a farming site, where feed density will be measured at points inside the cage with the entire array of environmental forces and fish acting upon the feed. providing information on (for example) fish feeding behaviour and the local pellet density. However, a camera can only capture a limited volume of the cage at a time, and displays an unfiltered image with an array of concurrent information. This may represent a challenge, if for instance the operator wishes to observe the density of feed in an area. Presence of fish and debris in the image may then obstruct the view, making a visual assessment of feed density difficult. Consequently, the operator must make decisions based on limited information from a subsection of the cage. The pellet distribution model could be used as a tool to illustrate the parts of the cage that are of interest to the operator at particular points in time. A 3D view similar to Figure 2 can then be presented, showing an overview of the cage containing fish and feed, in addition to a range of environmental parameters important for feeding. A model with a suitable interface will have an advantage over exclusive camera-based control in that the entire cage can be viewed within a single image and that the operator can remove fish or feed from the view as desired. Furthermore, the model allows the view to be zoomed and rotated to observe better an area of interest. The model is meant to be used in conjunction with cage cameras, and can aid in automatic camera placement at

The model
The model has been under development since 2004, and since then has been expanded from 2D to 3D, and merged with a fish behaviour and foraging model (Føre et al., 2009). The initial distribution of pellets across the cage surface using commercial rotary spreaders is based upon experimental data from Oehme et al. (2012). The model discretizes the cage into cubes, and the transport of feed between the cubes is calculated based on the transport equation (Alver et al. 2004). Feed is removed from the model when fish consume feed, or feed escapes outside the defined cage volume. Figure 1 shows the output from the model across three depths and a cross section of the cage at three different points in time. The model is currently being enhanced by incorporating results from pellet diffusion experiments, where a range of different pellet sizes and densities (produced at Nofima Feed Technology Centre, Bergen, Norway) were released in a large tank to observe their natural diffusion and sinking properties. Pellets with a diameter of 3, 6, 9 and 12 mm with low, medium and high density were tested to cover the range of feed most frequently used in commercial salmon farming.

Aid for the operator
Today, the feeding regime is for the most part controlled by the fish farm operator, which commonly possesses expert knowledge of the location. This often results in a well-run site with a high food utilisation (low FCR), and minimal feed loss. There are however substantial variations in performance between locations. The feeding system commonly presents the operator with a range of numerical displays representing various environmental parameters, as well as live video from one or more subsea cameras located inside the cage. The camera adds insight to the process by

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The studies were research centre’s also conducted in the aquaculture which allowed facilities, the a large scale. farming to be done on This zootechnical demonstration, the final results will be known of which sometime in 2011, was carried out in collaboration with Nathalie Le François, a researcher at the Biodôme de Montréal and associate professor at the Université du Québec à Rimouski. The first wolffish, hatched at the of fall 2008 in end the Centre aquacole de Grande-Rivière, marin were delivered Maurice-Lamontagne to the Institute in 2009. Since May Figure 2: Spotted their arrival Photo: Arianne Wolffish in in the these roughly Savoie, Fisheries farming tank 400 fish have tank, and Oceans handled very Canada Saltwater mariculture-aquacul been carefully. researchers measure Every month, the Quebec may ture in Université du soon welcome their growth rate, conditions Québec arrival: the a in à Rimouski and kept as close the Quebec Spotted Wolffish,new as possible to those found in ministry of threatened and agriculture, commercial fish fisheries and little-known species a food. operations. farming tastes delicious. that These measurements First of all, the compared with In Quebec, are data gathered fish that adapts Spotted Wolffish is a commercial in Norway and Iceland, fish farms well to the conditions currently limit where Spotted is kept in and themselves to it have been raised Wolffish is easy freshwater fish, farming develops quickly to domesticate. It for experimental while the mariculture commercial industry has and at very aquaculture focused until temperatures low for about 10 years now. and is not very very recently on molluscs. Preliminary sensitive to In other parts changes in results from the salinity Mont-Joli show of the saltwater fish of the water. Spotted Wolffish a growth rate farms are located world, slightly less that is the ocean. Doing can right in than that observed densities, something be farmed in high so significantly Norway, a farming costs reduces in that is crucial country the profitability and for that has had makes them considerable profitable. of an aquaculture experience in operation (see In Quebec, farming the species; thus, Figure installing aquaculture equipment rearing though the Spotted 2). As well, even in the ocean Maurice-Lamontagne conditions at the dicey prospect Wolffish does is a reproduce spontaneously because of ice Institute still not some room for winter. Previously, cover in have in captivity, improvement. new generations experiments Feeding poses can farming saltwater with year using captive be produced every one of the fish in tanks challenges for the need for obtaining optimal biggest technical expertiserevealed not forget another broodstock. And let’s in farmed as the high important quality as well Spotted Wolffish.growth cost fish possesses: this commercial feed it tastes great. however, research of production. Today, The used until now Aside from these advances are intended for salmonids the potential showing was obvious advantages, of the Spotted it is important and has not modified. The Wolffish. to find out This new mariculture feed has too much been species grows how this candidate was wolffish that are in fat and first noticed fed this type of in the early 2000s. potential benefit captivity so that its to food tend to Quebec’s aquaculture time, teams develop At the industry can liver from the abnormalities. Researchers be properly Lamontagne Mauricealso question assessed. For that reason, Denis Institute in whether it offers enough Mont-Joli, Quebec, collected Chabot, a researcher protein for the the Maurice-Lamontagne their first Spotted at needs of the particular Wolffish as part Institute, species. Another approached of the research the feed does problem: by the Société was they were projects not float and développement conducting de sinks to the bottom of the with the de tank, which is (SODIM) to carry l’industrie maricole problematic when it comes tests using water to feeding fish tanks. raised in high INTERNATIONAL densities. Ideally, species AQUAFEED the feed DIRECTORY
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FEATURE

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points of interest determined by the model. A model-based 3D view could represent an intuitive way of presenting process information to the operator, and could be a valuable tool in the daily feeding operations. As well as providing the base for a 3D view, the model might also predict future feed distribution patterns throughout the cage volume. This could be used to give an early warning of feed loss, enabling adjustments to be made to the quantity and temporal release of feed. Output from the model could also be used to estimate and report parameters that are difficult to observe directly, such as feed loss.

Scientific use
In addition to the value of active use in ongoing production, the model may allow farmers and scientists to test a range of scenarios before deployment on the farm. Different environmental conditions, feeding regimes, spreaders and feed types can all be run through the model, and the results evaluated to determine the effects on feed loss, and feed densities throughout the cage.

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Further work
The model has been verified with respect to a limited number of parameters. Further improvements must be made, and if necessary further properties of

26 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | November-December 2013

FEATURE
Gjøsæter J., Otterå, H., Slinde, E., Nedreaas, K., Ervik, the fish and environment need to be taken waste solids from marine cage farms. Aquaculture 214 (1-4), 211 - 239. A. 2008. Effekter av spillfôr på marine organismer. into account. Kyst og Havbruk, 52-55. As development continues, the physi- Dempster T., Uglem, I., Sanchez-Jerez, P., FernandezJover, D., Bayle-Sempere, J., Oehme M., Aas T. S., Sørensen M., Lygren I., Åsgård cal realism of the mathematical model is T. 2012. Feed pellet expected to increase. For the simulations Nilsen, R., Bjørn, P. A. 2009. Coastal salmon farms to be accurate, a certain number of meas- attract large and persistent aggregations of wild distribution in a sea cage using pneumatic fish: and ecosystem effect. Marine Ecology Progress urements from the cage are required. It is Series 385, 1-14. feeding system with rotor spreader. Aquacultural envisioned that for online use, the model will Engineering 51, 44 -52, ISSN 0144-8609, 10.1016/j. Einen, O., Holmefjord, I., Åsgård, T., Talbot, C. be fed with basic environmental parameters, 1995. Auditing nutrient discharges from fish aquaeng.2012.07.001. such as wind and current. A number of pellet farms: theoretical and practical considerations. sensors might also be deployed throughout Aquaculture Research 26, 701-713. MORE INFORMATION: the cage. The model will then use these Einen, O., Mørkøre, T., Thomassen, M. S. 1999. Email: kristoffer.rist.skoien@itk.ntnu.no measurements to predict feed distribution Feed ration prior to slaughter – a potential tool This work is part of the Centre for Research-based for managing product quality of Atlantic salmon across the entire volume. Innovation in Aquaculture Technology - CREATE, (Salmo salar). Aquaculture 178, 149-169. It is emphasised that focus is currently hosted by SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture 1Norwegian University of Science and on the model itself, and not on the visualisa- Fiskeridirektoratet (Directorate of Fisheries) 2012. Technology, Norway tion and user interface needed to provide a www.fiskeridir.no 2SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture AS, Norway more useful presentation for the operator. Føre M., Dempster T., Alfredsen, J. A., Oppedal, F. 3Nofima, Norway Hopefully, further development of these fea- 2009. Modelling of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar 4Centre for Research-based Innovation in L.) behavior in sea cages: A Lagrangian approach. tures can be undertaken in future projects. Aquaculture Technology, SFI, SINTEF Sealab, Norway Aquaculture 288, 196-204. The model will shed more light VICTAMisland:Layout 1 30/8/13 14:22 Page 1 on whether the traditional methods of pellet delivery, such as passive rotational spreaders in a fixed location within the cage, represent a satisfactory solution for feed distribution in sea cages, or if better performance could be achieved by employing more advanced spreaders with the ability to actively control the rate and area where feed is released into the cage.

Summary
The development of a mathematical model of feed distribution in sea cages is well underway and takes into account environmental factors, the spreader, physical pellet properties and foraging fish. The model with a user interface might be valuable as a tool during production, combining the knowledge of the operator with an extensive but simple process overview for best results. The model can also be used as a simulation tool for testing new equipment and adjusting variables before deployment. This will possibly lead to an improved feeding regime with economic, environmental and welfare benefits.

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References
Alver M. O., Alfredsen J. A., Sigholt, T. 2004. Dynamic modelling of pellet distribution in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) cages, Aquacultural Engineering, Volume 31, Issues 1–2, Pages 51-72, ISSN 0144-8609, 10.1016/j. aquaeng.2004.01.002. Cromey, C. J., Nickell, T. D., Black, K. D. 2002. Depomod-modelling the deposition and biological effects of

November-December 2013 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | 27

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