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“On a good day, a single production technician can produce up to 50 tonnes of fish, which is equivalent to 200,000 dinner portions. So it’s a big responsibility”, says Hans Otto Larsen.
He is the production supervisor at Lerøy Aurora’s growth centre at Hansnes in Karlsøy Municipality. From here, staff administer feed to all of Lerøy Aurora’s sea cages, from Tromsø to Kirkenes. By road, that would be a 12-hour journey of approximately 800 km.
Several cameras have been placed in the sea cages, and they are available 24/7. The images they capture are live-streamed at the growth centres, giving production technicians access to detailed information from the farms at all times, both from within the cages and from the surrounding area. Each work station has at least six 38-inch screens providing the information needed to optimise the feeding regime for the fish. Screens are often split into several windows so the technicians can simultaneously follow all of the cages being fed. So there is a lot of information to keep track of.
“All of our information comes from the images taken by the cameras. If you are providing feed to eight cages, you generally have the images from eight underwater cameras on your screen, as well as images of the surfaces of the same cages”, says Hans Otto.
As if that wasn’t enough information to keep track of, production technicians must also be on top of the oxygen levels, temperature and current conditions at the various locations. Feeding is monitored to check that all of the feed provided is eaten and that all of the fish in the cages have access to food.
“That ensures good growth rates at the same time as protecting the marine environment as much as possible”, says Hans Otto.
The result is sustainable food production with the lowest possible footprint, which is what Lerøy means by optimal feeding.
Lerøy Sjøtroll introduced the first growth centre, and since 2017 it has provided feed to all of its sea cages like this. That same year, Lerøy Aurora opened their centre at Hansnes in Karlsøy Municipality, and in 2019 it was expanded to cover all of their locations. In 2018, the decision was also taken to change the way in which Lerøy Midt fed its fish. Before the advent of the growth centres, feeding involved using feed barges at each of the 83 active locations that Lerøy had at the time.
“Many workers at our farms had a special relationship to the feeding, so it took a bit of getting used to for a lot of people”, says Hans Otto.
There was a strong desire for feeding to be done in the same way across the whole group, regardless of location. With hindsight, it has also brought several other benefits. Hans Otto highlights the uptime of feeding and monitoring equipment as one of those. Regardless of challenges caused by the weather, the fish need to be fed.
“Nowadays we can feed the fish even if the weather is so bad that the people working at the fish farms cannot go out to sea”, says Hans Otto.
In order for the production technicians to do this, they need access to the camera and the winch controlling the camera, and there must be a stable connection between the centre and the cage. Since they feed the fish remotely, they are completely dependent on the staff at the sea cages arranging and maintaining the equipment in such a way that it works even on days when the weather is too bad for them to go out to the cages. Good communication is crucial, and every single production technician has a radio earpiece which keeps them in constant contact with a supervisor on site.
“I feel proud when I think about how successful this teamwork is”, says Hans Otto.
Another advantage is that the operators at the growth centres work in open-plan offices. This has enabled them to cooperate in new ways, helping to create a highly skilled team that has developed its specialist expertise.
“Each of us used to be on our own barge, so we had no opportunity to discuss things or share experiences with other feeders on a day-to-day basis, but now everyone finds out about everything that is going on. If you cannot resolve a situation yourself, it is easy to ask the people sitting around you”, says Hans Otto.
He explains that this method of feeding has increased the expertise on feeding at Lerøy.