Digiheart Research Project Launched

Machine learning applied to predicting and preventing production loss in aquaculture (DigiHeart).

Researchers from Norway, Sweden and Fiskaaling, Faroe Islands, are meeting to launch to officially launch the research project Digiheart. The kick-off meeting was supposed to have been earlier this year, but it had to be postponed due to Covid-19.

The research project addresses the condition of farmed salmon hearts in Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands as studies point to heart deformities in farmed salmon as a significant concern in this respect.

Up to 20% of farmed salmonids die every year before slaughter. Typically, episodes of mortality happen during stressful incidents and interventions such as parasite treatment, deteriorating water quality, and transport to slaughter. Large fish that die during stressful procedures before slaughter is of particular concern, considering the investment required for growing fish to this size. Obviously, such mortality is a serious welfare issue and poses a serious obstacle to sustainability, ethics and economy of the Nordic aquaculture industry.

Currently, the causes of stress-related mortality are uncertain, but an increasing body of evidence suggests that the majority die from heart failure due to abnormal heart shapes or other types of heart disease. Abnormal heart shape may represent a novel and promising indicator of heart function, performance and risk of mortality. There are likely several causes underlying development of heart disease in farmed salmonids. Similar to humans, development of heart disease in fish may be linked to factors such as diet, physical activity, physical condition and stress from the environment.

The DigiHeart project, a consortium of researchers and industry partners form Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands, aim to develop technology and control systems that use machine learning to continuously survey data about all these factors, in addition to operational and environmental conditions to identify causes behind heart disease and mortality in farmed salmonids. The consortium will take advantage of the different production practices and prevalence of heart disease in the three countries to understand causes behind this issue. In addition, the project will develop on-site tools to evaluate mortality risk prior to stressful operational practices on fish farms. Thus, by identifying factors leading to heart disease and mortality and developing tools that can predict performance and mortality, the consortium aims at improving sustainability and animal welfare and reducing mortality in salmonid aquaculture.

The of the consortium are researchers from the Biotech Department of Fiskaalng, and researchers from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, the University of Oslo, the University of Göteborg, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, DNV, Nofima  og Aqua Kompetanse AS.

The project is carried out in close cooperation with aquaculture partners: Bakkafrost, Hiddenfjord and Mowi from the Faroe Islands, and AquaGen, Ellingsen Seafood and Midt-Norsk Havbruk AS of Norway.

The NordForsk funding for the Digiheart project is 815,000 EUR through the Nordic Research and Innovation Programme for Sustainable Aquaculture .

The project leader is Ida Beitnes Johansen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway.

For further information, please contact Amanda Vang, head of Fiskaaling’s Biotech department, on phone (+298) 774 767 or write to amanda@fiskaaling.fo.