New sensor to improve animal welfare at fish farms

A collaboration between the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and Danish OxyGuard, a world-leading supplier of fish farm equipment, will develop a new sensor that can monitor the water quality at fish farms and ensure the welfare of the fish.

Foto: Technical University of Denmark.

Over the next three years, researchers from DTU and engineers from OxyGuard will team up to create a new online sensor that allows fish farmers to continuously monitor the water quality in their basins.

“Fish farms constitute a very complex ecosystem, and today it’s possible to measure the quality of the water according to a myriad of parameters. With this project, we will develop an online sensor that automatically assesses whether the water quality and thus the welfare of the fish is up to scratch. It will provide a very powerful tool for the producers, who today spend considerable time monitoring the water quality manually,” says Paw Petersen, CEO at OxyGuard.

Fish farms are located on land, and account for an increasing proportion of food production worldwide.

Overall picture of water quality
The development of the new online sensor is being led by Senior Researcher Adam Hambly at DTU Environment, who has previously developed sensors based on fluorescence technology, where UV light is sent into a water sample and the light emitted back is then analysed. In this project, however, the water complexity is greater, so it is an exciting challenge.

“We’re developing a sensor that conducts measurements in real time, and which is connected to a database with registrations from many different fish farms. In this way, it is possible to constantly assess whether everything is OK, or whether it is necessary to step in, for example if a specific type of organic content in the water becomes too high, if there are bacterial blooms, or something completely different that might pose a problem for the fish. Perhaps we’ll even reach a point where the sensor can trigger an early warning if small changes in the water matrix occur that can lead to real challenges with the water quality at a later point in time,” says Adam Hambly.

Monitoring increases fish welfare and safety
Those involved with the new project expect to be able to develop and test a prototype of the new online sensor and ideally come as close as possible to commercial production. The sensor itself is being developed by engineers at OxyGuard. Researchers from DTU will contribute their knowledge and experience of fluorescence technology. In addition, DTU is responsible for collecting and interpreting data from a wide range of fish farms.

The final product will be a sensor that can closely monitor changes in the water quality and communicate the changes through an online system. In the long term, more complex algorithms can draw conclusions from the data, and lead to further improvements.

“The project is part of the natural development taking place within land-based fish production. Creating artificial growing environments for advanced species like fish requires a very high degree of technology, but also digitalization. Many parameters influence each other through feedback loops, and it requires powerful digital tools in order to fully understand them. By pooling our competences from across industry and research, we can create a product that can significantly improve production, animal welfare and safety,” says Paw Petersen.

The prospects are considerable if the project succeeds in creating the new type of sensor. OxyGuard has customers all over the world who are interested in being able to conduct simple and improved measurements on their fish farms.

Innovation Fund Denmark is supporting the project with a grant of DKK 6.4 million.

The project started in April, and will be completed by the end of 2023.

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