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Ichii, Okayama University of Science and NTT East find success in land-based sockeye aquaculture — Test marketing on the horizon


Ichii, a supermarket chain in Fukushima Prefecture, Okayama University of Science, and NTT East have been conducting 'Demonstrative Experiments for the Commercialization of Land-Based Aquaculture of a Complete Closed-Circuit System' since January 2022. On July 20, 2023, for the first time ever, they successfully achieved land-based aquaculture of sockeye salmon. Ichii stores undertook test sales of the sockeye salmon for three consecutive days from July 21 to July 23, 2023. As their next step, they are planning to start deliberation for full-fledged commercialization, while advancing their sales and marketing efforts.

A photograph of sockeye salmon (left), and the aquaculture system developed by the demonstrative experiments (right).
Provided by NTT East Group

As the global population continues to increase, some countries have been demanding ever larger amounts of fish and overfishing has become an ongoing issue resulting in changes to the marine environment. With overfishing affecting 94% of marine resources, the fishery industry is facing a big problem.

Compounding on this, Japan's self-sufficiency in edible seafood has seen a downward trend. In 1964, Japan's self-sufficiency rate was 113% but as of 2021, it had dropped by almost half, to 59%. Japan now imports more than 60% of the salmon and trout it consumes and this is a reason why prices are increasing. Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, these prices have skyrocketed further, and are now twice as high as they were in 2015.

Aquaculture is playing an increasingly important role in solving these problems. The current tripartite project is the land-based aquaculture of a complete closed-circuit system with a suitable environmental water. The suitable environmental water is a third kind of artificial seawater, which has been developed by Associate Professor Toshimasa Yamamoto of Okayama University of Science.

Among the elements in seawater, sodium, potassium, calcium, and other nutrients are narrowed down and included in the artificial seawater as essential nutrients for fish. Thus, it is possible to raise seawater and freshwater fish in the same water tank. As this aquaculture equipment is thoroughly controlled, the fish are safe to eat, and the aquaculture can be started anywhere with a water source. The cultured fish grow faster and do not easily catch diseases. Furthermore, the water can be reused and recycled, allowing for savings. This offers many advantages.

In this project, a suitable environmental water was used for the aquaculture of sockeye salmon. A young sockeye salmon, in general, takes approximately four years to fully mature to be suitable for shipment. This period is reduced to as little as 1.5 years in this project. The mature fish reaches approximately 50 centimeters in length and 1.2 kilograms in weight, the size most suitable for shipment and sales.

In the joint demonstrative experiments, Ichii collected data on the culturing, physical distribution, processing, and sales of sockeye salmon. Okayama University of Science provided a suitable environmental water, aquaculture skills, knowhow, and technological guidance for plant construction. NTT East provided the ICT-based aquaculture equipment (remote instruction, and the embodiment of data-driven aquaculture) and played a role in formalizing aquaculture knowhow (production recipe).

In this project, safe, secure, and edible, without heat-cooking cultured sockeye salmon was sold in Ichii stores to the local residents of Fukushima City on a trial basis. Through the trial sales, consumers' opinions and marketing data was collected and will be analyzed to determine the optimal business and sales methods.

Among the three parties in this project, Ichii is planning to realize its aquaculture business in collaboration with local governments, to advance the construction of the system to increase the yield for the foundation of local production for local consumption, and to contribute to the local community by providing 'dietary education' for local elementary and junior high school students.

Okayama University of Science is planning to spread land-based aquaculture with a suitable environmental water to contribute to the revitalization of local communities and to advance its research on how to expand the fish types applicable for the aquaculture and for the establishment of seed-production technology.

NTT East is planning to cooperate with NTT AgriTechnology, one of its group companies, to cope with the commercialization of land-based aquaculture and will, through this commercialization, create new local businesses and contribute to the revitalization of local communities.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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