The biofloc approach in aquaculture is a relatively new technique that involves the cultivation of suspended microbial aggregates, commonly referred to as bioflocs, in water to supplement the diet of cultured organisms. These bioflocs are composed of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and other microorganisms, which convert excess nutrients in the water, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, into protein and other valuable compounds that the cultured species can consume. This approach has gained popularity recently as a sustainable alternative to traditional aquaculture practices that rely on high-quality feed inputs and generate significant waste.
One of the primary advantages of the biofloc approach is that it allows for the reduction or elimination of external feed inputs, thereby reducing costs and improving the economic viability of aquaculture operations. The microbial communities cultivated in biofloc systems are highly efficient at converting waste products into biomass, which can be used as a feed source for cultured organisms. In addition, the bioflocs themselves can be harvested and fed directly to the cultured species (e.g. fish, shrimp), providing a source of high-quality protein and other nutrients. This approach has been shown to be particularly effective for species such as tilapia, shrimp, and catfish, which have a high tolerance for low-quality feeds. It can also help to improve water quality and reduce the environmental impacts of aquaculture. By promoting the growth of microbial communities that convert excess nutrients into biomass, biofloc systems can help to prevent the accumulation of ammonia and other harmful compounds in the water. This in turn can help reduce the need for water exchanges and improve the overall health and survival of the cultured fish or shrimp. In addition, because biofloc systems recycle and reuse nutrients, they generate less waste than traditional aquaculture systems, reducing the potential for environmental pollution.
However, there are also some disadvantages associated with the biofloc approach. One of the primary challenges is the management of the microbial communities that are cultivated in the system. These communities can be highly dynamic and sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, pH, and nutrient levels. As a result, careful monitoring and management are required to ensure that the microbial communities remain stable and productive. In addition, there is the risk of disease outbreaks: because the microbial communities in biofloc systems are highly diverse and complex, they can provide a favourable environment for the growth and spread of pathogens. This risk can be mitigated through specific measures, such as disinfection and quarantine protocols, but these measures can add to the system’s operational costs. Finally, the biofloc approach may not be suitable for all species or production systems. Some species, such as salmon and trout, require high-quality feeds and may be unable to derive sufficient nutrition from bioflocs alone.
But here, like in many other areas of aquaculture, artificial intelligence can help manage these complex systems. A recent publication by Rashid et al. describes how artificial intelligence in combination with IoT can be used to predict smart water quality for biofloc systems. In their article, the authors describe a system that collects data using sensors and analyses them using a machine-learning model. The system generates decisions with the help of AI and sends notifications to the user. Their system has been implemented, tested and validated.
And here, again, workers in the industry need to be trained to work with such systems and understand the outputs they deliver. This is where the EIT Food-funded AGAPE project aims to make a difference by providing AI-driven recommendations for upskilling and reskilling to adapt the workforce’s skills to the aquaculture industry’s changing needs.