Can hi-tech fish farming replace traditional agriculture?

Biologist Roni Hochman Sussman explains how aquaculture could become the most sustainable and efficient way of feeding the globe’s rapidly increasing population.

 Aquaculture research and development in action (photo credit: Aran Dolev)
Aquaculture research and development in action
(photo credit: Aran Dolev)

As the climate gradually grows warmer and cattle farming becomes less and less attractive a solution for world food production, scientists and innovators are working to develop suitable alternatives that can feed the world without wasting too many of its resources.

While modern seafood farming — or “aquaculture” — is a step in the right direction, its current methods are problematic in their own right.

If aquaculture’s problems can be solved, though, it stands to revolutionize the way we feed the world. In search of this holy grail are some of Israel’s brightest minds: aquaculture technology companies and innovators developing new, better ways to yield sustenance from the sea.

Biologist Roni Hochman Sussman is the director of AquaculTech, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Economy and Industry Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Israel Innovation Authority and the Israel Innovation Institute. She has over a decade of experience in the fields of agriculture and aquaculture.

Sussman is also the director of the upcoming Sea the Future summit from AgrIsrael: an event aimed at bringing investors from around the world to Eilat in order to check out the aquaculture solutions that Israeli companies have developed and fund the sector’s expansion and growth.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Sussman elaborated on the importance of the future of aquaculture, and the benefits that it carries over traditional agriculture.

What are the problems with agriculture that aquaculture can solve?

“So, classic agriculture uses a lot of land: today, 80% of the land used for agriculture is used to grow food for our food. Not only that, but it uses a lot of drinking water, and it pollutes the land that it's using because you have to use pesticides and [chemical] supplements.

“Looking to the future, by 2050, the human population is expected to reach 10 billion — all these people need to eat something, and if we keep producing food like we do today, we won't have enough land or drinking water to do that, especially in the current era, in which the world is drying [out]. We need to find alternatives, and aquaculture is the perfect alternative.

“Looking to the future, by 2050, the human population is expected to reach 10 billion — all these people need to eat something, and if we keep producing food like we do today, we won't have enough land or drinking water to do that, especially in the current era, in which the world is drying [out]. We need to find alternatives, and aquaculture is the perfect alternative."

Roni Hochman Sussman

“To grow one kilo of beef, you invest seven kilos of food. With efficient aquaculture, to grow one kilo of fish, you invest one kilo of food. The numbers are crazy [in comparison]. You also don't need as much land as you need to grow cattle.”

Current fish farming is shown to produce less healthy fish than traditional fishing does — does aquaculture address that issue? What is Israel doing in order to ensure that the fish we’re farming is healthy?

“The [greater] Israeli academy is very involved in the quality of fish life and sustainability. Fish health is one of the main issues being handled, and we are aiming for a balance between yield and health. You don't want to overcrowd your pools — the fish won't be healthy — and you don't want to grow too little. It's a balance, and every company holds its own balance.”

Based on my experience, the rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence has led to AI appearing in practically every area of technology. Is AI being implemented in aquaculture today, and do you foresee it drastically impacting the sector’s future?

“In any sector, AI is the future. Today, in classic aquaculture with nets in the ocean, because they don't know exactly how much they need to feed, they overfeed and create debris. There’s an Israeli company operating around the world called GO Smart; they use AI to analyze the way fish eat and to supply them with the exact amount of food at the exact time they require.

“There is an AI for a lot of things. There are almost unlimited options when you're using AI: because you can [use it to] understand fish behavior that’s invisible to your own eye, it allows you to predict health issues based on fish behavior that has changed even by a little bit. It can predict the effect of pests on your pools or your nets or whatever. AI is definitely a [valuable tool] for the future.”