Projects are underway in Norway and Japan to raise salmon in large numbers in big offshore pens, by adopting next-generation aquafarming technology.

Offshore farming aims to avoid sea lice infestations that often plague conventional small and overcrowded coastal farms, as well as water contamination caused by leftover feed.

At the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Norwegian Atlantic salmon prices continue to climb year after year. Poor catches and the growing popularity of sushi in the U.S., Europe and Asia outside Japan have contributed to the global increase in salmon prices.

Moves to increase the production are therefore gaining momentum.

In Norway, major exporter of cultured salmon, production was halved in 2015 after a sea lice epidemic hit some 30 coastal farms.

The Norwegian government launched a program that year to develop environment-friendly next-generation farming technology that prevents outbreaks of sea lice. Under the program, salmon farmers authorized by the government after screenings are allowed to use farming waters free of charge for up to seven years to conduct experiments and commercialize farming operations.

SalMar ASA, a Norwegian fish farmer with a foothold in Japan, secured a license from the government and will build a floating pen 20 kilometer off Trondelag, a central region of Norway, in October to raise 10,000 tons of salmon per year.

To minimize the risk of sea lice, SalMar will raise salmon at depths of 100 to 300 meters in the floating pen, which will have a manned control room at the center to feed fish by monitoring their movements via an underwater camera. The pen will measure 110 meters in diameter, holding 250,000 cubic meters of water.

The company plans to begin harvesting the cultured salmon from the farm in the second half of 2018.

A natural resources developer that was involved in the exploration of an oil field in the North Sea will participate in the SalMar project.

Norwegian Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Minister Per Sandberg, who visited Japan in June, said the new aquafarming technology is expected to be exported when completed.

Norway aims to increase its annual production of cultured salmon to 5 million tons by 2050 from 1.3 million in 2016, according to Sandberg. To reach this goal, “we have to do some regulations” to ensure that production will increase “in a sustainable way,” he said.

In Japan, Nippon Steel & Sumikin Engineering Co. launched a demonstration experiment on offshore farming in a pen some 3 km off Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, in December 2016 in cooperation with leading Japanese marine products company Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd. Using an automated feeding system, the project is raising coho salmon at a depth of 15 meters.

With feed provided through a pipe from a silo on the sea by remote control, feed needs replenishing only about once a week and there is almost no need to sail in rough weather. The pen utilizes technologies that the engineering company built up through the construction of offshore oil pipelines and steelmaking plants.

The project represents Nippon Steel & Sumikin Engineering’s first entry into the primary sector of industry. “Although we face some difficulties, we hope to sell the next-generation aquafarming technology in Japan and other countries where sites for coastal farming are becoming saturated,” said Takuro Kariya, senior manager of the company’s aquafarming system project.

Coho salmon were harvested from the pen in March for the first time and tasted good, Kariya said.

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