"We have developed a mechanical wrasse that picks lice off the salmon," said Helgheim, the man behind the company CLT Solutions AS, which has developed the concept in conjunction with technology enterprise Mekatronikk AS in Bergen.
"The salmon or trout swims into the three metre high and nine metre long tube. There it stops in different chambers which perform various operations like picking off lice, measuring size, counting lice on salmon, identifying disease and injecting medication."
'Take care of nature'
He has followed the aquaculture industry in recent years and has been concerned that it must be possible to solve the challenge of lice without using chemical treatment.
"I am very concerned that we take care of nature. I have made many inventions, including Snegleslukeren (Snail Drain Rail) that makes it possible to remove brown snails without using poison," said the inventor.
"I have long thought of the aquaculture industry and the challenges of sea lice. I have looked at the current solutions and what the industry is doing to keep control of lice. For me it's about working in harmony with nature. What we know works well is that cleaner fish eat lice off salmon. But a wrasse gets full, and when it is stressed it doesn't eat. Therefore we want to develop a high-tech, many-function device that does the same job."
'Vulnerable to water treatment'
According to Helgheim, the "Lice Tube" is far more gentle on the fish than the mechanical solutions available today.
"Our main focus has been welfare. Fish are vulnerable to today's water treatment and they need little before an injury is caused. With Lice Tube we want to bring down mortality and improve fish health. We think that the best solution is that the tube is permanently in the cages. It is a spa area for salmon. It is comfortable for the salmon to get rid of lice. We pull the salmon to the tube with light and counter-current, but if one starts with the young salmon we will probably find that the salmon eventually even seek out the tube to get rid of lice," said the inventor.
The first tests of the new device were made earlier this year, and Helgheim said the gentle treatment of the fish means both Norway's Directorate of Fisheries and the Food Safety Authority are positive about the development.
Helgheim says investors are also positive, but CLT Solutions now wants to establish cooperation with operators in the industry. "A number of investors are interested in being with us, but we want to enter into dialogue with the farming company that is willing to invest and cooperate with us."
And development will be quick, with a prototype completed next year.
Finished within a year
"I am impatient by nature. I want to get the product finished within a year, then start working on getting it approved and optimised. It's good to have Mekatronikk on the team now. They've long experience in developing new technology and say that we can get to a solution where the salmon swims in and comes out undamaged and free of lice. We see this in a multi-year perspective. We want to test the tube out over some time. Within a few years we will be ready to launch Lice Tube to the market on a large scale," said Helgheim.
A patent was recently granted on the system, and according to Helgheim there are several patentable features in the new lice product.
"Neither us nor our formal patent applicant, Acapo, had thought we would get the best and strong patent we received. This is a new milestone in our work and a good basis for the way forward. We are super ready to get started," said the entrepreneur.