Technical Insight: Bio-Planning: How Understanding Animals Leads to Better RAS Performance

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As land-based Recirculation Aquaculture Systems (RAS) continue to grow in number and scale, proper planning and strategic animal management plans become increasingly important. Not only is it important to the bottom line, but it is crucial for the wellbeing of the individual organisms that will spend time in RAS. Biological programming, or Bio-Planning, is what we call the roadmap to the care and conditions the animals experience on their way to release or humane harvest.

Know Your Life Cycles

The first requirement of a successful bioprogram is to know and understand the life cycles of the species. The needs of an embryonic salmon are very different from those of a fingerling, for example, and each life stage requires specific culture conditions and equipment.

Defining those stages and the conditions that best support them is the first step: How long will it take for the animals to transition to the next stage? What size will they be as they enter and leave each stage? How will husbandry have to change as the animal grows?

Growth Rates Are Key

The most critical piece of information required for this process is the anticipated growth rate of the animals. This may sound simple enough, but there are several variables that can have a significant impact. Environmental conditions like temperature, oxygen saturation, density and feeding strategies will affect growth. Biological and genetic factors, as well as natural variability, will also impact growth and Bio-Planning.

The importance of finding and securing a consistent supply of egg or larval that has a documented growth curve under specific culture conditions cannot be overstated. That data is the basis for an accurate bio plan, which informs the design and environmental conditions of RAS modules, and — ultimately — growth targets.

Plan for Variation

A common cohort of animals will naturally vary in growth, so the best thing to do is a plan for it. Multiple culture tanks should be provided to sort animals by size. Sometimes we can manipulate the growth rates of a single cohort by controlling systems conditions, distributing the biomass of the animals, and providing a more consistent output. A proper RAS Bio-Plan carefully ensures stock can be graded and sorted by size, that tank utilization remains high, and critical husbandry criteria are maintained to provide for the health and expected growth rates of the animals. The plan should include specialized equipment and monitoring devices to count, sort, grade, and distribute fish throughout the facility without direct handling.

Better Planning, Better Animals

The most successful Bio-Plans take the animals’ natural movements and instincts into account. This is biological engineering and bio-planning at its best, and results in improved operating costs, reduced animal stress, and better RAS performance overall.

About the Author: Ed Aneshansley, MPS, PE, is a recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) expert and serves as a Senior Aquaculture Engineer for the Fisheries and Aquaculture group.  He has over 20 years of experience in the commercial aquaculture industry with a specific focus on land-based recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) technologies. Ed is very passionate about the environmental and economic benefits that commercial aquaculture offers and therefore he is actively engaged in providing education and outreach opportunities in support of RAS technology.