New EU-funded research to focus on farming fish on land

Scientists from NUI Galway and Athlone Institute of Technology involved in two year-project

Environmental conflicts over fish farming may be reduced if new EU-funded research on land-based aquaculture bears fruit.

The two-year project involving scientists from NUI Galway (NUIG) and Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) aims to apply new technology to rearing fish in freshwater sites inland.

Funding has proved to be one of the most significant barriers to farming finfish onland, rather than at sea, and a report for the Irish Salmon Growers’ Association (ISGA) two years ago said that capital costs were too high to make it viable here.

However, so-called “closed” systems relying on recirculated water onland may reduce the disease risks and potential impacts on marine environments – which are subject to State regulation.

The expertise of engineers specialising in water recirculation is being harnessed for the “Ecoaqua” project which has received almost €350,000 from the European Maritime Fisheries Fund administered by Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

The project will analyse the environmental and energy performance at three existing freshwater aquaculture sites, and focus on sustainable re-use of treated water.

Partners in the project include two tank-based salmon smolt production units in Co Donegal, a perch and tench cultivation site in Co Sligo and a trout farm in Co Wicklow, while NUIG’s marine research station at Carna in Connemara will also be used.

Dr Eoghan Clifford of NUIG’s college of engineering and informatics explained that he and Prof Neil Rowan of AIT had previously worked together on an associated project entitled “Morefish”.

“Norway, Denmark, even Scotland and Northern Ireland are moving towards recirculation facilities to rear fish onland,” he explained. “The high costs are mainly associated with feed and with the energy usage involved in pumping recirculated water at particular temperatures.

“Our project aims to try and reduce the unit costs per kilo of fish produced and also reduce the environmental impact aspects,” he said.

“Aquaculture is recognised to have the potential to address food security concerns in many countries and offer significant economic benefits. Ireland currently ranks as fifth in value and seventh in volume in terms of high value fish species with exports supporting approximately 2,000 jobs,” he said.

“However, the sector in Ireland has remained relatively stagnant and has significant potential to grow, develop export markets and create employment in rural areas,” Dr Clifford added.

The project is aligned to Ireland’s FoodWise2025 policy, which seeks to grow food exports by 85 per cent to €19 billion by 2025.

The State’s national strategic plan for sustainable aquaculture development published in 2015 set a taret of increasing aquaculture production across all species, including shellfish, from 40,000 tonnes annually to 45,000 tonnes by 2020.

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