Nathan Pyne Carter is CEO of Ace Aquatec, an award-winning aquaculture technology company specialising in welfare-first in-water electric stunners, low-impact marine mammal protection products for offshore construction and biomass estimation cameras.
Read on to learn about changes to legislation, consumer opinion and the technologies that are driving ethical practices.
With the changes to legislation on aquatic sentience, how are farming practices shifting globally?
Ace Aquatec has been producing humane slaughter systems for aquaculture for many years, however it is only recently that we’ve seen a huge uptake in systems across territories beyond the EU and in species other than salmonids. The new legislation last year from the EU and UK has brought humane slaughter into tighter focus.
Consumer behaviour has shifted significantly since the Covid pandemic. They have become more brand, rather than price driven and are demanding clearer efficacy around the whole supply chain when purchasing fish. UK consumers expect the welfare of fish to be protected and they want to know that what they are eating is humanely slaughtered with clear certification labelling. With this comes greater need for the supply chain to engage with the issue and demand humane slaughter systems are utilised on all farm sites if they want the products stocked by large retailers.
One of the biggest impacts we have seen have come from the NGO sector – with organisations such as the Humane Slaughter Association, Open Philanthropy, and the Prawn Welfare Project committing funds to help farmers try humane slaughter systems on farms globally. Ace Aquatec was a recipient of a £1.2m grant from the HSA in 2020. We used that to build four pilot stunners, and demonstrate the efficacy and economics of transitioning from inhumane to humane slaughter systems. Alongside this package we brought academics from Stirling and Bristol University to help us validate and demonstrate the improvements to be gained by adopting humane slaughter.
This work fundamentally shifted the landscape when several big producers of tilapia, seabass, bream and yellowtail trialled these pilot systems and were able to see first-hand the improvements (higher welfare, better health & safety for workers, more efficient processing and better quality results). Sites that were once dropping fish directly into ice, killing in air, using CO2 or clove oil, or even using percussive systems with imperfect calibration, or dry electric stunners with the potential for pre shocks, are now coming to us to introduce in-water electric stunning technology to their farms as it guarantees insensibility for every fish in less than one second, and improves welfare standards, quality and handling.
As rhetoric on humane harvest develops, what technologies are strengthening and pushing ethical practices?
Ace Aquatec first developed its in-water stunners for trout, and has gone on to expand the offering to Salmon, Tilapia, Cod, Seabass & Seabream, Yellowtail in aquaculture or wild catch. We’ve just launched a new stunner for Prawns too. To us, stunning can’t just be effective some or even most of the time. Every animal that passes through a stunning system must be humanely stunned in less than one second. For this reason, we developed in-water electric stunning, where the stress of the animal is very low by avoiding long periods out of water, and ensuring the stunning voltage is conveyed through water with an even electric field adjusted for the impedance of the animal in the pipe. Once farmers deploy our systems they quickly realise that there is much to gain from reducing the stress of the animal prior to slaughter: better rigor mortis times, improved flesh quality, longer shelf life. We’re now focused on working with partners to bring this technology to wild fishing vessels and to species beyond our finfish customers we have historically supplied to date.
What developments are being made in welfare-centred stunning and monitoring technology, and how can producers be incentivised to change practices and utilise innovations, to meet the needs of consumers and aquatic livestock?
We have a very exciting period of growth within Ace Aquatec with new systems coming to market this year. Most significant is the extension of the HSU stunners for crustaceans. This year we will be testing our first AI camera at Scottish Sea Farms which is designed to count and monitor the fish coming through the stunner. Using the latest computer vision detection software we will be monitoring the stun efficacy as well as measuring, counting and providing health indicators to the farmers via our portal. This will provide full visibility for the farmers who deploy our in-water biomass camera all the way from cage to harvest station.
Knowledge is power – and we hope that farmers will continue to embrace technologies that provide them with the best view of the health and wellbeing of their fish. Avoiding stress remains the best way to achieve the best margins on product. Aside from this, we need to continue to support the adoption of new technologies by providing grants for smaller companies to adopt new technologies. This is an exciting period for the blue ocean space, and we are pleased to be at the fore of these incredibly important changes in the way farming is conducted.