The project is designed to give farmers advanced notice of approaching algal blooms. Image: Aqua-Users.

HAB alert nears launch

A data analysis system that should allow farm workers to pre-emptively react to threats posed by approaching harmful algal blooms (HABs) is approaching its commercial launch. 

Published Last updated

Headed by Dr Marnix Laanen, the EU-funded Aqua-Users project has developed a number of tools which are to be made commercially available to the aquaculture industry.

As he explains to Fish Farming Expert: “The project is based on aggregation and analysis of data gleaned from a wide variety of sources – from Earth observation (EO) data and innovative optical in situ measurements – which can then be interpreted to give farmers more informed decisions about where to located new aquaculture installations, as well as offering operators of existing sites advanced warning of potential threats posed by extreme climatic conditions and approaching algal blooms.”

The system has been developed with the aid of 8 commercial partners, including Marine Harvest Scotland, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) and Erfjord Stamfisk, as well as seaweed and mussel producers from Denmark, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Given the recent problems caused by algal blooms, the project has been met with very positive responses from both salmon and mussel producers.

Dave Cockerill, Head of Fish Health at Marine Harvest Scotland, said: “These alerts could be the first indicator of an unseen bloom heading our way, literally a life-saving service.”

Jamie Smith, Technical Executive of Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), added: “Satellite monitoring is a valuable service used by salmon farmers to detect advance warning of harmful blooms. The remote sensing technology developed as part of the Aqua-Users project expands its capabilities, providing real-time information and predictive tools to help them understand how blooms might develop and spread, as well as the potential impact for their farms. And with the incorporation of this technology into a smartphone app is a real added bonus, as it means farmers can access information at all times of the day – a real positive for our technology-driven industry.”

As Dr Laanen explains: “We have developed a number of tools but these have not yet evolved into off-the-shelf services. We are finalising these now, so that the industry can deploy them in the near future and a number of these tools are already really close to being offered as services.

“We’re currently talking to Finisterra, a mussel producer, who is likely to receive the first spin-off product which we intend to use as a blueprint that we can convert for other users.”

Lourenço Ribeiro, owner of the Portuguese firm, said: "Finisterra is highly interested in tools for daily management that could help to predict the occurrence of HABs, which have been the major constraint in the business."

It is, essentially, a question of fine-tuning the system as well as tailoring the relevant data for specific producers.

“We aim to assist at a farm level by presenting data in a format that can be used directly, and so our products need to be tailored to the farm – a mussel farmer in Portugal is going to have different requirements compared to a salmon farm in Scotland,” Dr Laanen continues.

Initial products

The project is currently developing two main products.

“The first allows producers to analyse a raft of relevant data before selecting possible locations for new farm sites. This site selection tool is on the cusp of being ready to be used,” Dr Laanen explains.

“The second is a mobile app that relates to the daily management of farms and provides all sorts of data – for example when it was trialled by Marine Harvest in Argyll we were able to task the app to show data relevant to the area and they were also able to add their own data. It’s a very broad application, which can be relevant for all types of cultured species and geographic localities and deal with all sorts of problems but each producer is looking for different information – the optimal temperature and chlorophyll ranges for a mussel producer in Portugal and one in the Netherlands is very different,” he adds.

This second feature can be supported by a new piece of technology developed by the project.

“One of the means for gathering additional data is using a portable spectrometer – the WISP-3 – we’ve developed which measures water quality parameters and enables farmers to collect their own data,” says Dr Laanen.

Another element of the project is to produce early warning risk maps for HABs.

As Dr Laanen explains: “While we originally produced maps based on chlorophyll concentrations, the industry wanted us to flag up only harmful species of algae, so we now have an EO product identifying four harmful species (ie dinoflagellates Karenia mikimotoi and Lingulodinium polyedrum, diatom Pseudo-nitzchia spp., and haptophyte Phaeocystis globosa) and are able to discriminate blooms containing any of these four.”


It’s now a question of commercialising the various products.

“We had our final formal meeting with the 8 producers in Edinburgh last month and we will approach these companies to be our first clients – we need to maintain this close collaboration between scientists and producers,” says Dr Laanen.

He adds: “The site selection tool will be ready by the beginning of 2017; the app will follow soon after, as there is a huge amount of info – from the likes of satellite images, to the Copernicus wind and wave models, to EU weather buoys – and this needs to be fine-tuned to fit on one easy-to-use screen.

“We’re planning a generic, entry level subscription, then we can tailor and add elements as required by the client.”