Senior scientist Jouni Vielma has found himself knee-deep in developing fish farming for nearly three decades. Next, he wants to transform recirculating aquaculture into a commercial success.
You’ve researched fish farming for almost 30 years. What keeps you fascinated?
“There’s a social need for information. The environmental guidance of aquaculture is very strict in Finland. Companies only get production permits if their environmental impact is minimal. At the same time, Finland is far from self-sufficient in salmonid production. Businesses are able to grow only if their environmental impact can be reduced.”
So the need to reduce environmental impact is especially important in Finland. How can this be achieved?
“At this point, the development of aquatic feeds can reduce nutrient emissions by merely 5 to 10 percent. Recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS, open up whole new possibilities. They can reduce emissions by up to 90 percent.
Additionally, recirculating aquaculture can help increase production substantially as long as business stays profitable. For the time being, farms in Finland have struggled to do so.
I believe this will change. Very recently two major recirculating farms have opened production in Finland. These facilities alone aim to increase production of Finnish rainbow trout by a third. This is why we do research: to be of assistance and to transform new, expensive technologies profitable.”
That being said, what’s your most important research project at the moment?
“I’m coordinating the Aquaculture innovation program, which is conducted in cooperation with businesses and other major research institutes such as the Finnish Environment Institute, Metsähallitus, Finnish Food Safety Authority, and Finnish Meteorological Institute.”
How would you describe the global prospects of aquaculture?
“The demand for farmed fish and shellfish is growing rapidly. As a research area, the development of aquatic feeds is highly important worldwide. Feed contributes to more than half of production costs of farmed fish. From a consumer perspective, it also has a great importance to the nutritional value of fish. Furthermore, the environmental impact of different feed ingredients varies widely.
At the end of the day, research themes are the same worldwide. One doesn’t need to go further than Norway to see strong investment in new technologies. The production of salmon juveniles has been moved to RAS farms and further production is being sought for offshore. In Norway, salmon production is hundredfold compared to that of Finland, and salmon lice are a large-scale issue. Therefore, Norwegian production is likely to change drastically in the near future.”
Does a fishery expert such as yourself break away from fish in their spare time?
“No, nor would I want to. I fish all year round and whatever my wife requests for dinner, I try to catch. My aim is to fish a wide range of species and to cook up a storm: canned roach, smoked vendace and so on.
I must say that not all my spare time is filled with fish. I’m also an avid follower of Finnish football: I start feeling funny if a whole week passes without attending to a live match.”
Text: Solja Virkkunen