In the forefront of research into closed fish farming systems

The fish farming industry could get a new lift with the use of semi-closed or closed systems. Researchers at Uni Research Environment are leading the way in developing knowledge and solutions.

By Andreas R. Graven

To menn sitter i en båt. Foto
Researchers Lars Ebbesson and Sigurd Handeland of the Integrative Fish Biology research group at Uni Research Environment. Here they are at the Lerøy facility at Sagen in Samnanger, Hordaland. They are looking more closely at one of many types of semi-closed fish farming systems, to be studied in more detail in the ‘CtrlAQUA’ SFI. (Photo: Marit Hommedal)

The research into semi-closed and closed systems is taking place in a new centre for research-driven innovation (Norwegian: SFI) called CtrlAQUA.

In the major investment that an SFI represents, the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima) is hosting the project with Uni Research as an equal research partner. The University of Bergen (UiB) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNTU) are other Norwegian partners. The budget for CtrlAQUA runs to NOK 199 million.

The area of the SFI headed by Uni Research will focus on optimising growth and securing good health and welfare for the fish.

Morning on the fjord

Research duo Lars Ebbesson and Sigurd Handeland have made the trip to Sagen at the mouth of Trengereidfjord in Samnanger, a short detour off the main road.

“The challenges facing aquaculture are louse levels and escaping fish, and these are problems we are addressing with semi-closed and closed fish farms,” says Handeland.

Ebbesson and Handeland point happily in the direction of the fjord.The two of them are part of the Uni Research Environment ‘Integrative Fish Biology’ research group.The team also includes fellow researchers Tom Ole Nilsen and Marco Vindas.

Their enthusiasm this morning is not mainly down to the beautiful landscape of Western Norway, but rather the brand new installation for Lerøy Vest AS out in the sea.  A tug has hauled a new design for a semi-closed fish farm out to Lerøy’s facility at Sagen.

Different concepts being studied

The large, elongated plastic structure is called a Preline, and like other semi-closed systems, it moves about in the sea.

“Both the Preline concept and other types of semi-closed systems we intend to study in the SFI in the next few years are very exciting. In the facility out here it is especially interesting that the fish get exercise by swimming in a current. At each end of the facility there is a pillar where you can adjust the depth and rate of replacement of the water,” says Handeland.

At least three different designs will be studied in the CtrlAQUA SFI, and the research project is split into three different areas.

The area to be headed by Uni Research relates to production biology. The focus will be on optimising growth and securing good health and welfare for the fish.

“It’s a real thrill to be part of such a big project as this together with other institutions, studying different environments for fish farming. We will definitely gain a lot of new knowledge, and I really believe closed systems will help fish farmers in the future. The industry is always thinking of sustainability, but it needs a lift, and we can help it to develop in an even more sustainable way,” says Ebbesson.

International calibre

One of the goals of an SFI is to develop skills of international calibre – in areas that are important both for innovation and for value creation.

“One of the important things about developing this sort of semi-closed or closed system is to show the authorities and the aquaculture industry that salmon farming can grow, despite today’s problems with lice and wastage,” says Ebbesson.

He heads the work on fish production and welfare within CtrlAQUA.

“As of today there are quite a lot of restrictions on the industry precisely because of problems with salmon lice. Closed systems could change this considerably,” he says.

His colleague, senior researcher Sigurd Handeland, explains in his usual committed way that Uni Research brings a solid dose of experience to the project.

“We have been working on closed systems for the last three years, and the results for fish up to one kilo have actually been very promising, with less than 1% wastage in the completed trials in the Skånevik tank at Marine Harvest. Although such systems also have their difficulties, there are several advantages to a semi-closed system: we not only reduce exposure to lice, we also shorten the early marine phase where we have seen up to 20% of the salmon lost,” says Handeland.

Critical phase for the fish

The researchers aim to find out whether the fish can become more robust and tolerate changes better by staying in the system up to one kilo, before being released into traditional growing rearing facilities with open purse seines.

“The initial growth phase up to 1 kilo is considered the most critical for the fish,” says Handeland.

Ebbesson looks forward to working with the researchers at Nofima, which hosts the CtrlAQUA SFI.

“We already have several years of collaboration behind us in which we have combined and complemented each other. The SFI further strengthens our joint efforts and expertise. We are leaders in research into closed fish farming systems,” says Ebbesson.

Handeland explains that they will be examining at least three types of closed system. One is Preline, while the largest is called Aquadrome. A third concept is known as a Flexibag.

These three are all semi-closed solutions in the sea, while fully closed concepts are used on land.


The research will identify biomarkers that enable the industry to monitor how well the fish are doing and what environments are good or bad.

“The activity is in the forefront of international research in this area.

The next step, after measuring the environmental impact and maximising growth and welfare, will be to identify when it is best to transfer the fish from a closed system to a traditional facility with open seine nets,” says Ebbesson.

Sigurd Handeland believes it is very important to make a commitment to research into closed systems, even though the fish farming industry is already focusing on sustainability. "The industry cannot solve lice problems and all the other challenges that it faces on its own. The time is undoubtedly right for a concerted effort.

At any rate, we should find out whether semi-closed and closed systems are a good solution for fish farming,” says Handeland.


This is CtrlAQUA

  • Centre for Closed-Containment Aquaculture. New centre for research-driven innovation (SFI)
  • Senior researcher Bendik Fyhn Terjesen, Nofima, heads the centre. Lars Ebbesson at Uni Research heads the work on fish production and welfare together with senior researcher Sigurd Handeland.
  • Senior researcher Harald Takle at Nofima heads the work on preventive fish health.
  • The University of Bergen will be responsible for training researchers in the SFI. Total budget for CtrlAQUA: NOK 199 million over eight years.

Uni Research is a partner in CtrlAQUA

  • Uni Research is a research partner in the CtrlAQUA SFI, which is hosted by Nofima. Other Norwegian partners: UiB and NTNU. The Freshwater Institute and Gothenburg University are international partners.
  • Corporate partners from the supply industry: Krüger Kaldnes AS, Pharmaq Analytiq AS, Pharmaq AS, Oslofjord Ressurspark AS, Storvik Aqua AS and Aquafarm Equipment AS.
  • Aquaculture partners are Marine Harvest ASA, Grieg Seafood ASA, Lerøy Seafood Group AS, Cermaq Norway AS, Bremnes Seashore AS, Smøla klekkeri  and Settefiskanlegg AS.

Source: Uni Research and Nofima

Integrative Fish Biology

  • Research group at Uni Research Environment carrying out basic research into the impact of the environment on fish development, growth, reproduction, smolt quality and disease.
  • The research group is one of the few in Europe to combine neuroscience with endocrinology and physiology.
  • This is to gain a new understanding of the way faming conditions affect the biology of the fish. The knowledge will be used to improve and/or establish new protocols for fish farming and various types of cultivation.

Source: Uni Research

July 2, 2015, 8 a.m.