More than two years ago, John and I quit our jobs, moved halfway around the world, and set forth on a full-time mission to help aquaculture grow sustainably in Bergen, Norway.
We had been leading tech teams in Washington, D.C., and spent weekends visiting oyster farms in the Chesapeake Bay. After seeing how few digital tools existed for farmers, we leaped at the opportunity to spend late nights building software that helped them better manage their data.
As a city that lives and breathes aquaculture, Bergen was the ideal place for us to take this a step further. We fully immersed ourselves in the community and haven’t looked back—doing our best to learn the language from the locals themselves. There, we were also lucky to meet Nat, whose background in biology and Master’s degree in aquaculture helped us better connect the power of data with the complex ecosystems in the water.
The three of us met anyone willing to talk about fish. We camped up the coast of Norway to visit and learn from multi-generational farmers, fish health biologists, young production managers, policymakers, researchers, and other startups. Many took time out of their incredibly busy schedules to warmly welcome us into their homes.
We saw that, while Norway’s powerful, high-tech innovations will play a part in helping the aquaculture industry grow and continue feeding the world sustainably, the country’s culture and community—built around salmon—was also key. When these two sides are able to build off of each other, powerful community-driven innovation follows.
Over the past few years, we’ve explored a few different ways data can practically help both aquaculture farmers and the industry as a whole.
Make it easy for farmers to do what they do best.
Digitalization speeds up operational tasks like filling out reports, assessing overall fish health, or pivoting production plans. Data provides more certainty in making high-stakes decisions. But with so much data available in Norway, the challenge is in aggregating, understanding, and applying it in a simple way that leads to action.
Our first solution in 2018 aimed to save farmers time and valuable resources in their day-to-day. The dashboard alerted farmers about nearby sea lice outbreaks and treatments, so they didn’t need to continually monitor BarentsWatch or rely on phone calls to know how local conditions could impact production. After a few months, we saw that we were just scratching the surface of the value this data could provide.
Today, we’re committed to removing all barriers to making fast, informed decisions about what’s best for the fish, farm, and ocean. Our platform includes historical data archives, industry and company benchmarking, risk forecasting, fish health and environmental status, and treatment recommendations based on past and industry performance, all in one place.
We’re still driven by the same potential for positive impact as those early days camping up the coast. The more factors and information we bring in, the easier we can make it for farmers to farm more efficiently, profitably, and sustainably.
Provide the public with facts around sustainability in aquaculture.
Better data collection and management can not only make it easier for farmers to do what they do best, it also plays an important role in the stories the media are telling about the industry.
In 2018, our analysis on treatment patterns showed ASC-certified sites use significantly more cleaner fish than non-certified sites. And over the previous four years, mechanical treatments had risen throughout the industry while medicinal treatments had gone down. We’ve dug into the impact the traffic light system had on Norway’s sea lice levels, which of Norway’s top salmon companies are most effectively using their biomass, how salmon could leverage green bonds to grow sustainably, and more.
We want to help tell the story of aquaculture through data, so conversations around policy, regulation, fish, and ocean health can be rooted in the numbers. Our hope is that productive action and innovation for both farmers and the ocean can follow.
Predict fish health events sooner.
With better data, farmers can make decisions as changes are happening on the farm, not after. Questions like, how will my mortality be post-treatment? or what is the current risk of getting PD on my farm? can mean the difference of preventing an outbreak or losing millions of NOK.
Over the past few years, we’ve manipulated, formatted, and mined more and more factors to predict things like fish size, quantity, mortality, production lengths, and wellboat activity. Now with a robust data set on the fish health of farms across Norway, we’ve been able to uncover patterns and insights that would be impossible to deduce with the human eye.
But aquaculture is about more than forecasting models and high-tech innovations. Complex accessories and fancy algorithms mean nothing without a straightforward, reliable, easy-to-use system to apply those insights—that’s where we come in.
The need for prediction and resiliency is stronger than ever in 2020, but farming will always need farmers. For our part, we’re helping to combine the power of data with farmers’ invaluable knowledge, experience, and intuition.