Guoxin 1, the first of a new class of vessels that is expected to revolutionize fish farming, was commissioned just a few days ago. The size of an oil tanker, it is a 100,000 dwt vessel that, according to the Qingdao Guoxin Development Group, will produce more than 3,700 tons of fish per year. At its commissioning, the ship’s managers assured that its production will focus on “high quality farmed fish”, species such as sea bass, Atlantic salmon and grouper. The first batch of large yellow croaker, they announced, will be harvested in the fall of this year.
According to different Chinese media reports, the vessel cost CNY 450 million (about USD 67.27 million) and was jointly developed and built by Qingdao Conson Development Group (main investor), China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited (CSSC), the National Pilot Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology (Qingdao) and the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Science.
The vessel has already achieved several records, such as the largest aquaculture vessel, the largest tanks and the largest aquaculture volume. Dong Shaoguang, deputy general manager of Qingdao Conson Development Group, the state-owned company financing the vessel, and in charge of operating it, commented that four more vessels are planned, after some of their concepts have been tested on a smaller vessel. The intention, they said, is to reach a fleet of 50 floating and mobile fish farms.
In fact, two identical vessels are already under construction: the Guoxin 2 and Guoxin 3, which are expected to be delivered around March 2024. A fourth vessel would be an ‘upgraded version’, scheduled to be built by the end of 2023.
The story of the vessel began in 2019, when China Shipbuilding Trading Co (CSSC) proposed the concept and a demonstration project for deep water aquaculture in 2019. Guoxin 1 began construction at CSSC’s Qingdao Beihai shipyard in December 2020. The vessel is 816 feet long with 15 tanks twice the size of normal pools. It has nearly 900,000 square feet (or more than 19 acres), of tank capacity.
The ship left the shipyard in January 2022, in fact its launching took place at Qingdao Beihai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Co’s Pier No. 2, while it completed its sea trials between April 30 and May 5. According to CSSC, the Guoxin 1 exceeded plans and was delivered with an official naming ceremony last May 20 in Qingdao, Shandong province. CSSC had to apply for more than 40 patents, including one international patent, and has obtained more than 10 approvals for design elements, the company said.
Chen Zhixin, chief scientist of the National Marine Science and Technology Pilot Laboratory, said the ship uses more than 30 domestically developed intellectual property elements. As a result, he said, the vessel will demonstrate highly efficient and environmentally friendly aquaculture.
An enclosed, controllable aquatic environment
While no details were provided on the propulsion system or the vessel’s speed, it has been acknowledged that one of the challenges in the design and construction was the control of onboard sound levels and vibrations. There was also no information on the number of people that will be needed to operate the ship or where it will operate.
The core of the system is a constant exchange of water between the tanks and the sea that makes the ship’s aquatic environment closed and controllable. This controlled environment allows the fish to be isolated from damaging natural catastrophes, such as ‘red tide’ and typhoons, as well as pollution. Operations on board the ship are monitored with underwater cameras, sensors and a self-feeding system, as well as connectivity with the company’s shore-based offices to monitor the fish.
In order to realize intelligent fish farming, the tanks are centrally controlled. Real-time monitoring of water, oxygen and light is carried out. Feeding in the rearing tanks is carried out by 2,108 measuring and control points. In addition, this type of fish farming takes into account the need for a higher fish rearing density in the tanks. It can be four to six times higher than in traditional aquaculture cages. Also, the rearing cycle can be shortened by more than a quarter.
According to Guoxin 1 officials, they hope to increase the density of the rearing operation in the future by three to five times more than traditional cages. Thus, they will be able to shorten aquaculture cycles by up to four times. In addition, they expect to be able to improve the fish survival rate and also increase the rate of weight gain.