A digital imaging platform designed in Dunedin could be the boost New Zealand’s GreenshellTM mussel industry needs to meet its goal of earning $ 1 billion in exports by 2035.
Research using Techion’s digital imaging device coupled with its cloud software could be part of the solution to ensuring a quality supply of spat (juvenile mussels), one of the biggest challenges facing the food industry. mussel culture in New Zealand. According to Dr Dave Taylor, Technical Director of Aquaculture New Zealand (AQNZ), “investing in innovation and technology is essential to unlock new economic, social and environmental benefits from sustainable aquaculture”. The 2019 AQNZ GreenshellTM mussel spat strategy identifies three areas of intervention to achieve industry production goals: securing and diversifying spat supplies, optimizing spat use and increasing hatchery production to increase retention , resilience and the value of the spat.
A research project, which has just completed its first phase, may offer the solution. The project was funded by Seafood Innovations Limited as part of a partnership between Aquaculture New Zealand (AQNZ), Aquaculture Solutions Ltd (AquaSol) and imaging diagnostic platform developer, Techion.
Project partner Andrea Strang of Aquaculture Solutions Ltd (AquaSol) says spat supply is the foundation for the success of the GreenshellTM mussel industry in New Zealand. “Research shows that if spat retention can be improved by one percent, it will increase the amount of spat available by 20 percent.”
After 15 years of monitoring the Golden and Tasman Bay spat catches using a traditional microscope, Andrea recognized the need to develop a digital solution to assess the quantity and quality of the spat, and to identify the catches with the best chance of survival and retention. Real-time spat quality information will guide spat management decisions and improve spat performance outcomes. “Spat retention is often very low; it is currently estimated that less than five percent of the wild spat collected at Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē (90 mile beach) and less than two percent of the wild spat caught on custom ropes at recognized spat-catching sites around New Zealand are reaching maturity.
“We need a standardized system that can be used on beach or farm boats, as well as in the laboratory. A tool to assess the condition, size and number of mussel spat, then report these statistics immediately to enable farmers to make informed management decisions about which spat to take and how to care for it – will improve retention. Increasing spat retention by about five percent could be worth millions of dollars in exports.
Andrea’s vision led her to Techion, a world-renowned agricultural parasitology company, which marketed the FECPAKG2 for counting and measuring parasite eggs in animal feces.
Techion Founder and CEO Greg Mirams said the recently completed first step of the research project has confirmed that the innovative intelligent digital imaging device known as Micro-I can be adapted to analyze condition, the size and number of spat.
“By working in partnership with Andrea Strang and AQNZ, we have confirmed that the Micro-I digital microscope can capture and present images for spat counting. Knowing this allows us to move on to the second phase of the project; develop protocols and use artificial intelligence (AI) to specify and measure the size of spat and assess their health. All of this can be assessed by analyzing the images taken on the portable Micro-I which connects to the platform’s internet cloud for analysis.
Greg Mirams said that once the research is complete he is confident Techion’s Micro-I will provide real-time spat assessments, on the beach, on ships or in the lab.
Project partners are preparing to move to phase two of the research, which will develop the technology through pre-commercialization and integrate the use of AI image analysis to assess spat quality and quantity.
The value of measuring spat viability was highlighted in the AQNZ 2019 spat strategy, which described the need for spat managers to reliably count and measure the health and condition of newly deposited microscopic spat. The strategy noted that this critical phase of life is currently invisible and therefore poorly understood and difficult to manage. In addition, by 2025, the industry will need 7.5 million meters of rope-seeded spat to achieve the required expected harvest. The report concluded that knowing the information on the quantity and quality of each batch of spat will allow more informed management to improve spat retention and enable the industry to meet its growth goals.
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