Novel Sensors for Fish Health & Welfare

OFI Large Research Module K

This research will help us better understand the fish farm environment, and support farm managers by providing more information to use in decision-making. The team of researchers and their industry partners will combine novel sensors to bring new approaches to in-water sensing applied to the welfare and management of farmed fish.

The research encompasses four components:

  1. Farm-scale sensors for aquaculture management - Monitoring ocean conditions (particularly temperature and oxygen levels), which can inform aquaculture site selection, fish feeding and growth rate, and pen cleaning 
  2. Short-term forecast of physical marine environmental conditions - Computer forecasting models of temperature and oxygen and other variables around fish farms 
  3. Acoustic tagging as a tool to explore stress in farmed salmon - Tagging fish and monitoring their behaviour in fish pens 
  4. Microbial/plankton observatory (pathogens and fish health) - Monitoring for the presence of pathogens, harmful microalgae, and other organisms that affect fish health in pens 

About the research 

In the ocean, finfish farming – salmon, trout, arctic char, etc. – commonly uses net pens, which are moored to the bottom and sit at, and below, the surface of the water. Net pens contain keep fish contained, but otherwise become part of the ocean environment. Marine fish farms affect the ocean around them because by-products of fish farms (such as uneaten fish feed, pathogens, and waste products) spread beyond the nets. And the ocean affects fish farms through weather-related risks to workers, by removing fish farm by-products, and because fish health and behaviour relate to ocean temperature and oxygen content in the pens. 

Canada now cultivates 26 different species of finfish, the largest component of the country’s aquaculture sector, valued at $1.3 billion in 2016. 

The goal of marine aquaculture is to farm species and animals within the natural ecosystem without altering its basic goods and services. 

This research seeks to improve the sustainability of marine fish farming. 

This research will address the two main biological risks to farmed fish: 

1.           Oceanographic and climate challenges to fish physiology and welfare

2.           Presence of pathogens, harmful microalgae, and other organisms that affect fish health  

The importance of these variables to successful and profitable fish farming cannot be understated. For example, extreme temperatures cause catastrophic death rates in cultured salmon. Similarly, diseases such as infectious salmon anemia require culling of entire farms. 

To address these risks, researchers will partner with industry to install novel sensors in fish pens to monitor fish behaviour and water conditions. The data collected will help us better understand the farm environment, providing farm managers with more and better information for decision-making.

Expected benefits of the research 

  • Provide real-time data on oxygen and temperature from multiple cages at fish farming sites, using wireless, networked systems
  • Develop software delivery systems for cage sensors, specific to farm management needs
  • Develop ways to integrate sensor data into computer models of ocean currents near fish farms to better forecast oxygen levels and temperatures
  • Equip cages with sensors and tag fish to determine where fish reside within their pen and how their behaviour relates to their environment, focusing on interactions between fish and nets 
  • Relate ocean conditions, pathogen occurrence, and fish behaviour
  • Early detection of pathogens, pests, and harmful algae (using a process called metagenomics profiles) at fish farms and in surrounding waters