With the deadline for Call 4 having just closed, we thought it was high time to review what we’ve already done since SIF’s inception in 2019. In that time, we’ve funded nearly 100 projects across the UK to a tune of £10 million. We asked for innovations aimed at boosting sustainability or productivity in aquaculture, capture fisheries, or the seafood supply chain (or all of these sectors at once!) – and our applicants answered. We’d love to showcase them all, but in the interests of your time, here’s a selection to give you a tantalising flavour of our portfolio.

Project 1: Use of underwater video and machine learning for monitoring of lobster stocks

The partners: Heriot-Watt University, Regional Inshore Fishery Group Orkney Sustainable Fisheries, Bangor University, and the Data Lab (University of Edinburgh).

The region: Scotland

The mission: To develop underwater technology to support the monitoring of lobster stocks

The details: 

European lobsters are a particularly tricky marine species to count, because they’re “cryptic” (i.e. really good at hiding) and the rate at which they are caught in pots doesn’t necessarily correlate with their actual abundance. This adds uncertainty to the process of sustainably managing lobster stocks, which are important to some UK coastal communities. In response, Heriot-Watt University and its partners are developing a low-cost, creel-mounted underwater camera system and machine-learning technology, which together are designed to quantify lobster presence in areas where creels are being used. Not only could this provide data to fishery scientists advising lobster fisheries managers, but it could also help guide individual fishers in where to fish (within sustainable limits) and provide new insights into how lobsters live their lives. In 2022, the project enjoyed a busy spring and summer deploying cameras in Orkney and Isle of Man waters, with the images collected to be used in the machine learning phase.

Project 2: Take the Bait

The partners: Macduff Shellfish, Bangor University’s BioComposites Centre, Sea Trust

The region: Wales

The mission: Reduce ocean plastic pollution from bait bags used in the shellfish industry

The details:

Whelk fishers – and seafood processors – commonly rely on woven plastic bait bags. These can fall overboard, and even if disposed of on land, they might take thousands of years to degrade in landfill sites. The Take the Bait partnership worked with fishers to find ways to keep the bags on the boat, to extend their lifetimes, and to make them more recyclable. Some of the improvements identified were simple yet smart – for example, redesigning the bags to make them easier to open, so that fishers didn’t need to cut them open and throw them away after one use. Over in the BioComposites Centre laboratory, experiments were carried out to explore how they could be cleaned, and to identify the best materials in terms of robustness, recyclability, and biodegradability. Several novel materials were investigated, although more experimental work is needed to refine the formulation for the bait bags of the future, and Sea Trust is currently exploring possibilities. Take the Bait also served as a catalyst for the charity’s project Recycle Môr – this involves working with fishers to collect and recycle end of life fishing gear including bait bags, which are then turned into high-value products such as sunglasses and litter pickers.

Project 3: Establishing high value kelp products from farmed kelp

The partner: Islander Kelp Ltd

The region: Northern Ireland

The mission: To optimise the nutritional value of seaweed products

The details:

Although it’s well established that seaweed can provide a sustainable source of nutrients such as iodine and iron, Islander Kelp, which farms seaweed on ropes around Rathlin Island, wanted to answer two important questions: firstly, were there any risks of its seaweed being contaminated by heavy metal pollutants in the marine environment? And secondly, could tweaking the way that the seaweed is processed enhance the nutritional value to consumers? Happily, the project showed that the seaweed was not being contaminated. As for maximising the nutritional profile of seaweed products, the project concluded that further research is needed into the macro and micro components of the seaweeds.

Project 4: Using data-accurate sensors to improve quality monitoring of fish processing to improve the lifetime of Atlantic salmon

The partner: BlakBear Ltd

The region: UK-wide

The mission: To apply a gas-sensing technology to seafood in order to extend its shelf-life and reduce its waste

The details: 

BlakBear had previously developed a unique gas sensing technology which can monitor for food spoilage and, paired with machine learning, send this data to the cloud via a smartphone app – allowing companies in the supply chain to predict freshness and remaining shelf-life for a range of foods. With SIF funding, BlakBear was able to gather and analyse data, and calibrate the gas-sensing technology in order to apply the same process to seafood. Seafood is particularly susceptible to spoilage in comparison to many other foods – which means that the development of more effective methods to monitor, predict, and react to seafood going off could reduce economic losses in the supply chain and improve sustainability by reducing how much food has to be thrown away. 

Project 5: Eco-fish box

The partners: Emagine Packaging Ltd, Bangor University, University of Greenwich and Thomas Leech

The region: England

The mission: Develop a box made of renewable and low-cost material for chilled seafood deliveries

The details:

Polystyrene foam and other plastics are the norm when it comes to packaging chilled seafood deliveries for businesses and consumers. But they can’t be recycled, and incinerating them generates carbon emissions. Enter: the Eco-fish Box! The idea is to develop a biobased foam that can match both the thermal performance and price of conventional foamed plastics, and can be composted. An initial feasibility phase saw the project team, led by Emagine Packaging, research the needs of the supply chain as well as the thermal performance and carbon footprints of candidate biomaterials in comparison to polystyrene. With further funding from SIF, the project is now developing a prototype box, with positive feedback received from e-commerce seafood suppliers who have tried it out.

Project 6: Polychaete Upcycling of Aquaculture Wastes

The partners: Sustainable Feeds Ltd and Pennog Ltd

The region: England

The mission: To determine the feasibility of feeding polychaete worms with fish farm waste, and then feeding them to farmed fish

The details: The hunt is on for alternative sustainable sources of food for farmed fish, to reduce pressures on the wild fish stocks that are often used as fishmeal in aquaculture. One contender? Polychaete worms. Specifically, polychaete worms that have been fed with waste recovered from fish farms. An earlier feasibility study phase of this project found that it was possible to recover such waste and process it into a dry, transportable form. In the R&D phase, the project partners have successfully raised healthy worms from feeds created from waste. Another important question was whether sufficient nutrition could be passed onto fish from the worms. Based on feeding trials, the news is looking pretty good! Pellets made from the worms were found to be attractive to both crustaceans and fish – and animals that ate the pellets showed excellent growth and health. Future steps are needed to help scale up this circular system include refining the delivery of waste products to the worms.