Growing together to benefit all – the future of Aquaculture

The IMTA Impaqt pilot site at Lehanagh Pool, Ireland.05 June 2020 - As the demand for seafood has increased, technology has made it possible to grow food more efficiently in coastal marine waters and the open ocean. Developing innovative technologies and processes in aquaculture will ensure farming seafood responsibly and sustainably is the solution to feeding the planet's ever-growing population. The Marine Institute is currently coordinating an EU-funded project, which utilises IMTA - Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture, which may offer a promising solution for sustainable aquaculture development.

Aquaculture is the breeding, raising, and harvesting of fish and shellfish in water. In Ireland, marine aquaculture produces Salmon, mussels and oysters. Ireland's aquaculture sector produced 38,000 tonnes in 2019, was valued at €172 million and employed over 1,900 people, mostly in our coastal communities.

Production often involves firstly raising fish in hatcheries, where eggs are hatched and larvae grow to juvenile stages before being transferred to aquaculture systems to grow into adults. Saltwater fish are supplied with food and farmed using ocean pen systems, which allow for the free exchange of water between the farm and the natural environment. Shellfish are contained in a specialised unit allowing them to feed on natural plants and materials in the water until they are ready for harvesting.Growing of scallops at Lehanagh Pool

Aquaculture production is incredibly resource efficient, with seafood having a very efficient feed conversion to weight gain ratio compared to other proteins such as beef, pork or chicken. Aquaculture also has lower carbon emissions than other types of farming, but fish do produce organic waste and their waste could potentially be released into the surrounding waters. Finding sustainable food sources and reducing the environmental impacts of these food sources are key challenges facing the aquaculture sector as it continues to grow globally.

An innovative solution currently being investigated to address these issues is IMTA – Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture. IMTA involves farming multiple, complementary species from different levels of the food chain together for their mutual benefit. The by-products from one aquatic species are used as food for another species. The fish are fed, the shellfish filter out microscopic plants and organic content from the water and seaweed absorbs the minerals in the water. The natural ability for these species, shellfish and seaweed, to recycle the nutrients or waste that are present in and around fish farms can help improve the environment performance of aquaculture production sites. In addition, the approach also maximises the use of space and the diversity of species provides extra economic benefits.

Growing of seaweed on a lineIMTA is currently being trialled at the Marine Institute's aquaculture research site in Lehanagh Pool in Connemara, Co Galway. Salmon are being reared on site, with scallops and seaweed growing alongside helping to remove the organic inputs in the water. The trial is part of the EU-funded project, IMPAQT, which is being co-ordinated by the Marine Institute. IMPAQT (Intelligent Management System for Integrated Multi-tropic Aquaculture) aims to promote aquaculture production based on the IMTA method.

IMPAQT is developing a computerised, artificially intelligent, management platform, which analyses the environment, fish behaviour, and data from satellites, image analysis, as well as inputs from the farmer on site. This platform will provide information on fish welfare and water quality, and real-time operational feedback and advice to the farmer on the management of their site. The IMPAQT system incorporates new sensors, wireless communication systems, and state-of-the-art software. The IMPAQT system is being designed and tested at the Marine Institute's research site in Lehanagh Pool, the Keywater Fisheries IMTA site in Sligo, as well as other aquaculture sites in Europe and China.

This year, World Oceans Day is exploring the theme of 'Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean' and it is also the focus of the Marine Institute's Oceans of Learning series this week. Oceans of Learning offers videos, interactive activities and downloadable resources on the state-of-the-art infrastructure, advanced equipment and innovative technologies used to undertake marine research. To view the resources visit Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean

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The IMPAQT project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 774109. For more information visit