For many decades, the aquaculture industry has been limited to incremental small innovations. All of a sudden, we now see lots of new approaches and money pouring in, and we are looking at a future of breakthrough innovations.
However, one must understand that many of these innovations will not be introduced without having an impact that goes beyond productivity, as the producer sector frequently warns us.
Today, we need to take into consideration the effects that these actions have on environmental and social sustainability, as well as on people’s health, and we must integrate these evaluations in our activities in order to mitigate their impacts at micro and macro-economic levels. Indeed, it is not possible to understand how we impact the aquaculture sector, nor the effect it has on the global economy, without combining all the factors that affect its resilience and competitiveness.
Under the umbrella of these premises, our NewTechAqua project is developing a comprehensive analysis model to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the various indicators.
Indicators are tools for monitoring, evaluation, forecasting, and decision support. They are defined by reference to agreed targets. The confrontation of values taken by an indicator with the corresponding objective makes it possible to judge the effectiveness of an action. Indicators are also efficient communication tools. By quantifying and simplifying the information, they make it understandable to a broader targeted audience.
Our innovative approach is based on the design of virtual chains that incorporate the innovations coming from our consortium partners. This model will allow us to evaluate how these improvements are consolidated in the various aquaculture models and thus have an impact on society.
The candidate models that we have identified are the following:
- Salmon, selected using the breeding program, farmed using the AI epidemiological model, and supplied to market using innovative processing methods.
- Seabass, reared in eco-intensified land-based systems, fed with free catch fishmeal diets and supplied to market using innovative minimally processing methods.
- Organic Meagre, reproduced according to specific protocols, fed with the innovative organic diet, and supplied to the market as an organic minced product.
- Oyster, selected using the breeding program, farmed using controlling pathogens by means of biosensors and commercialized using non-thermal conservation treatments.
During this first year of the project, intensive work has been carried out to analyse the indicators to be used, and to define the way in which they will be integrated into the proposed virtual channels.
NewTechAqua project is in its early stages, and many of the technical results the future assessment plans will be based on are currently in process. However, the preliminary assessments provide a valuable overview of the significant expected environmental, economic, social, and health impact of the NewTechAqua project.
For the evaluation of the environmental impacts, an approach based on the evaluation of the life cycle is proposed. Specifically, it is a “cradle-to-grave” or “cradle-to-cradle” analysis technique that is used to assess the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life, from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, and use. This Life Cycle Assessment is applied to estimate a set of core impact indicators, such as the following consolidated ones: carbon and water footprint, ozone depletion, photochemical oxidation and eutrophication and acidification emissions, cumulative exergy demand, for instance.
Another interesting approach for monitoring the environmental impact is the introduction of the concept of emergy accounting. This concept is based upon the concept of emergy, which is defined as the total available energy (exergy) used up directly and indirectly to deliver a product or a service.
For the economic impacts, models based on a specific form of analysis (EIA) which calculates direct and indirect benefits from projects will be used. Such an approach examines the effect of an event (or innovation) on the economy in a specified area. The economic impact assessment will therefore also concentrate on the economic implications of the new aquaculture production systems (e.g., business output-sales volume, value added-business profits, personal income, and jobs created).
Regarding the assessment of the social and health impacts, the analysis will only focus on impacts that occur or might occur as a consequence of NewTechAqua’s innovations.
Social impact indicators are used for assessing (qualitatively and/or quantitatively) the social changes occurring or expected to occur in the future as a result of changes in organizations’ structures or actions. These changes may be implemented to impact a defined target group, and/or affect a wider social group. Some of these changes can have a direct social impact (e.g., a causal relation), with for example “10 % more people act in a certain way because of a certain change”. However, a more profound social impact may occur at a later stage, where it is less clear whether the changes implemented were the only or main cause at all. This wider social impact is referred to as “the indirect impact”.
Health impact indicators are used for assessing how changes in practices, due to deployment of new solutions, technologies, methods, or altered external conditions, can impact the health of people. The health indicators are related to nutritional status, diseases, demographics (e.g., life expectancy), accidents, and other factors.
“Using the innovations and results obtained in the NewTechAqua project and integrating them into our virtual models to evaluate their efficiency, we will improve the aquaculture production system and make it relevant for more people in the world. And if this is not enough, we will invite those who have the answer in their hand. This constitutes part of the dedicated innovation award that will be organized for start-ups of the aquaculture sector during the second half of the NewTechAqua project.”