As global markets plunge into an economic upheaval, no industries are spared from the turmoil caused by the ongoing pandemic. Some of the hardest hit sectors include aviation, hospitality, and most notably — food and beverage (F&B).
With enforced lockdowns and restricted social interactions, daily activities of restaurants and bars are placed to a near halt. Aquaculture, which serves as an important sector for the F&B industry and one of our main food supply chains is no exception and is undoubtedly affected by COVID-19.
What is aquaculture?
Aquaculture, or also referred to as fish farming, is a method used to produce food and other commercial products, and in some cases rebuild populations of threatened and endangered species. Its primary focus commonly lies in the production of hatchery fish and shellfish.
In essence, there are two main types of aquaculture — marine and freshwater, and this involves cultivating freshwater and saltwater populations under controlled conditions and can be contrasted with commercial fishing; in other words, the harvesting of wild fish.
Aquaculture spans across a wide range of industries. Besides food production, it also includes the production of ornamental fish for the aquarium trade. The aquaculture industry is expected to hit $274.8 Billion by 2025, as fish remains one of the world’s largest sources of food. Among the biggest drivers of the industry are China, Indonesia, and India, with China producing over 60% of the world’s aquatic products across every subset of aquaculture.
COVID-19’s impact on aquaculture
COVID-19 is undeniably having a dramatic impact on the seafood industry globally. Although the novel zoonotic virus does not affect sea life, the fish sector is still subject to indirect effects of the pandemic through changing consumer demands, market accessibility, and logistical problems related to movement restrictions that have been implemented in various countries.
With fishing activities brought to a halt to contain the spread of the virus and less market demand, fish farms are reporting a massive drop in the value of its produce. Major seafood producers such as Stolt Sea Farm reported a $12 million drop in the value of its sole, sturgeon, and turbot biomass.
Fish are among the most heavily traded food products in the world. However, as more restaurants and hotels are ordered and advised to close amid the COVID-19 outbreak, seafood producers are seeing a reduction and even a cessation of orders from their customers.
In China, the coronavirus is hitting the nation’s sustainable aquaculture scene, citing the inability to export as one of the leading causes. Restrictions on movement have disrupted supply chains at all levels, and suppliers are struggling to move products due to limited access to logistics.
Over in the UK, reports of the collapse of the crab and shellfish market are emerging as most of the seafood industry relies heavily upon exports and tourism.
Additionally, the uncontrolled capturing of seafood for human consumption at a normal rate isn’t sustainable at this point due to the lack of demand, which has already resulted in a backlog of supply. This would then have an adverse effect on the environment, as the disposal of unsold seafood would result in massive waste and pollution.
Implementation of AI to the rescue of aquaculture
The global pandemic has presented new challenges that fish farm operators need to address to protect their business continuity urgently. The industry would now need to adjust to the new norm by not just working safer, more sustainably, but also more efficiently.
How might an industry that’s been around for centuries adopt and adapt to these much-needed changes? The answer — implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions.
Driving the transformation of the industry with its AI solution is Aquabyte, whose main mission is to help to build global food systems sustainably. The Norwegian based startup is one of the very few in the world which focuses on introducing machine learning and computer vision to aquaculture in hopes of improving fish farming efficiency.
Just how does it work? The AI solution can be seen in application by utilizing underwater 3D cameras that are mounted in fish farm pens, which allows Aquabyte’s software to monitor data such as feed consumption and fish biomass. With this crucial data at hand, fish farmers are then able to optimize the feeding process and better understand their inventory, allowing fish farmers to plan, especially during these trying times.
In Asia, UMITRON, a deeptech company with a mission to solve worldwide food and environmental problems by empowering aquaculture through AI and technologies such as IoT. Services which they provide are aimed at optimizing the amount and timing of feeding based on analysis of fish school behavior.
Overfeeding is a prevalent issue fish farmers grapple with constantly. To curb this, the Japanese startup launched Fish Appetite Index (FAI), a real-time appetite detection system.
How it works is that the FAI algorithm observes fish-eating behavior, uses machine learning and image analysis to quantify and extract relevant data from video streams, before scoring their appetite and presenting the data to fish farmers on mobile.
This allows an optimized feeding operation that matches the appetite level of the fish, hence resulting in lower operational costs, which is important to maintain business continuity during this unprecedented time.
Future of aquaculture lies in AI
As AI can help aquaculture battle the effects that COVID-19 has on the industry, fish farmers and seafood producers should begin looking at it as a permanent solution beyond the pandemic.
A silver lining to this pandemic is that it might spur mass adoption of AI that will revolutionize the industry for good as it paves the way for AI-driven aquaculture companies to show their effectiveness with various ways of implementations by providing actionable insights to fish farms.
Utilizing AI solutions help farmers improve their efficiency, decrease operational costs and allow for better estimation of stock required, especially during unpredictable world events that may lead to a lack of demand and surplus of production in the supply chain.
Essentially, the future of Aquaculture in a post-pandemic world is not one without AI solutions.