Rent hav – plast: Tracking of plastic emissions from aquaculture industry (TrackPlast)
In Norway there is a continued demand to increase aquaculture production to fulfill the increasing demand of the market. Farmed salmon has become a significant source of national income. Aquaculture was developed to support consumer demand for fish and the methods of production have continued to expand with the growing consumer market. As the demand for fish and aquaculture has increased, the development and expansion of aquaculture facilities in coastal and open water locations has increased. The expansion of the industry and the diversity of materials used to build and maintain aquaculture systems have paralleled the development of synthetic polymers over the last decades. Synthetic fibers offer greater strength and durability than natural fiber ropes, they are cheap, durable and easier to handle compared to their natural counterparts. Most modern aquaculture activities use plastic-based lines, cages or nets suspended from buoyant or submergible structures (in part made of plastic) and have nanotech plastic-based biofouling and paint applied. These days tanks, pens, nets, floats, pontoons – as well as the pipes of the fish feed suppling systems – are made of plastic material. All plastic material within an aquaculture site is maintained and controlled for chemical degradation, biofouling and corrosion, and are regularly inspected to ensure strength and stability.
In the context of global plastic pollution to the oceans, aquaculture may be a contributor to this. However, the estimation of their contribution remains a knowledge gap and lost or derelict gear as well as other possible plastics emissions from aquaculture can be a locally important contributor especially in in coastal areas with intensive activity. FHF considers it necessary to look at the challenges and solutions related to the release of microplastics from the aquaculture industry. This project will benefit from the synergy with ongoing projects addressing the occurrence of micro/nanoplastics in the fish food production system, and in the aquaculture production project managed by NORCE and financed by Lerøy ASA and Skretting ASA.
The project is one of four projects within the announcement / call for research project proposal, 'Rent hav – plast' (Clean sea – plastic), in spring 2018. The announcement's overall aim is to gain increased knowledge of how the seafood industry can reduce emissions of plastic and increase the knowledge of microplastics and nanoplast in fish.
a) To acquire knowledge about the sources of emissions of plastic and micro-plastic in the sea from aquaculture facilities.
b) To determine relative amounts and contributions from various aquaculture processes in the immediate vicinity of the aquaculture farms and use collected data to estimate the mass balance in the global system.
c) To identify industrial processes of seafood production largely responsible for potential plastic discharge and suggest possible measures to reduce eventual emissions.
d) To develop a draft action plan for reducing plastic emissions from the seafood industry.
The mapping exercise performed within the project will help to provide a preliminary estimate of sources of plastic discharges in the aquaculture industry as well as to discriminate the contribution of aquaculture activities to other diffuse sources of plastic pollution. The outcomes of the mapping activity will help discriminating technological processes in the seafood production phases that are major contributors to the emission of plastic fragments and promote effective solutions to emissions reduction helping the industry to reach goals toward decreasing plastic emissions and increased environmental sustainability. Furthermore, data available from the project will be used to model fluxes in the aquaculture industry to infer the estimated global emission budget in the Norwegian sector. Such data will support legislators and environmental managers to establish concrete actions toward the management of plastic litter in the marine environment.
The project activities will be structured into four work packages (WPs). Hypotheses and selected approaches are addressed in each of the work packages.
WP1: Project management, communication and dissemination of the results
WP leader: A. Gomiero, IRIS-NORCE.
• To promote the effective development of the project facilitating the interaction of project participants, stakeholders group, board of advisors.
• To harmonize the exploitation and the dissemination of the results.
• To facilitate the inter-method calibration between and outside the participant laboratories.
WP1 will coordinate and administrate, promote and monitor the project progress in accordance with the milestones specified in a Gantt diagram, and is led by the project leader (PL). The PL chairs the steering committee formed by the WP/tasks leaders (prosjektgruppe). The steering committee together with the reference group (referansegruppe, including representatives from FHF) will contribute to the project development ensuring a broad collaboration among the stakeholders by establishing a synergic discussion with the relevant national agencies (Fiskeridirektoratet, Miljødirektoratet and Mattilsynet) as well as other researchers and Norwegian institutes working on similar topics, such as NIVA, NIBIO, NTNU and NILU. To maximize the benefits, a constant and dynamic communication among all project’s contributors and the BoA, periodic meetings will be set at least every 2 months after the project kick-off (also via Skype) to assess progresses and coordinate deliveries (minutes will beavailable to the participants within one working week after the meeting). Meetings with between the steering committee and the reference group will be held twice a year. The WP1 further coordinates the dissemination plan which is presented after the WPs descriptions.
WP2: ‘Characterizing and discriminating input sources into the aquatic environment through the fish feeding line”
WP leader: T. L. Berg, Skretting ASA.
• To characterize and quantify plastic fragment sources from fish feed production.
• To characterize and quantify environmental inputs of plastic fragments from fish feed systems.
• To fill the methodological/technological gaps hindering an accurate assessment of microplastics in the aquaculture industry.
• To facilitate the inter-method calibration between and outside the participant laboratories.
• To identify those industrial processes in the seafood production which are largely responsible for plastic discharge.
• To assess the most up-to-date and effective methods for microplastics assessment to support the release of a guideline.
The scientific partners in the consortium employ a combination of the most up-to-date technology for the detection of microplastics in environmental and food samples. One of the secondary objectives of the call is to provide guidelines on the best possible way to track and quantify aquaculture industry emissions. The present proposal will be a unique basis to benchmark the most effective plastics detection and characterization technologies. IRIS-NORCE have developed a standardized method to quantify and characterize plastic fragments in the micrometric (MPs) and far nanometric (NPs) range in fish feed and the associated raw material. The method is based on a combination of a multistep enzymatic-strong alkali-oriented purification followed by a densitybased separation to extract plastic fragments form digestates. Extracted samples are size fractionated in four size classes (D1:500–300 µm; D2: 300–150 µm; D3: 150–10 µm; D4: 10–1 µm). D1 will be quantified by ATR-FTIR at UNI-NORCE. The finer fractions D2–D4 will be sequentially analysed first by a µFTIR oriented technology at Havforskningsinstituttet (HI) and finally by GCMS-pyrolysis technique at IRIS-NORCE. The combination of the introduced techniques will allow the project to gain accurate knowledge about shape and size of plastic particle as well as the total quantity of plastic fragments and the relative abundance of each of the most environmentally relevant polymer types in the investigated samples.
Task 2.1: Discrimination and quantification of possible input sources of plastics from fish feed production
Task leader: T. L. Berg, Skretting ASA.
The task aims at assessing the amount, size distribution and polymeric composition of plastic fragments possibly occurring in the processed material at different stages of the fish feeding production phases. Research will be conducted at the Skretting AS (SKr) production facility located in Stavanger. Samples will be taken from the initial raw material supply, before and after each of the main production steps as well as from the obtained final product (pellets). Furthermore, plastic materials used in the facility will be sampled and characterized to assist in the mapping of sources of contamination in the production system.
The primary goal of task 2.1 will be to discriminate any potential production phase contribution to the plastics content of the final fish food product. A secondary goal is to estimate the potential input rate to the aquatic environment deriving from the supplemented fish feeding product during the seafood production phase. SKr, with the technical support of IRIS, has already initiated a mapping exercise in the company’s fish feed production as part of its own internal efforts to ensure good quality products. The experience gained by this preliminary study together with the preliminary results obtained will be invaluable contributions to the outlined task. The outcomes of the task will be presented in terms of plastic particle sizes, total amount and polymeric composition per gram of analyzed material.
Task 2.2: Discrimination and quantification of possible input sources from fish feeding suppling system
Task leader: T. Severinsen, Akva Group ASA.
Recently, it has been argued that pneumatic fish feed systems can be responsible for releasing plastic fragments in aquatic environments during aquaculture production phases as transported food pellets may induce significant abrasion of plastic piping. To date, little is known about this process, the size and the estimated input of plastic fragments, as well as the associated environmental implications. To investigate this, samples of food pellets obtained by SKr will be characterized for polymer content and composition before and after their transportation thorough the fish feed system to assess the possible enrichment of plastic particles in the pellets’ surface when they enter the water.
In cooperation with Akva group (AkG) and CAC, the condition of the piping will be documented before and after several months of activity. Sections of the piping will be examined under microscope and the images analyzed by a specific software to investigate fragmentation patterns and characterized for polymeric composition. Such information will be used to further investigate the potential release of plastic fragments during the ordinary seafood production operative phase (task in coordination with WP2, task 2.3).
In this context, sea water samples will be collected both close to the fish feeder system release point in a selected salmon production facility owned by Marine Harvest as well as in a site far from any aquaculture activities (as control samples). A semi-automatic sampling device designed by IRIS staff will be used to filter 100–1000 liters of water per replicate and retain particulate matter in stainless steel certified sieves. Three replicates per sampling session are set up. Sampling will be performed before and during a normal aquaculture production feeding schedule at two sites both inside the aquaculture pen and in a site selected far away from the production activity. Two sampling sessions are set up before and during the production phase. Trapped material will be carefully removed from the sieves, cleaned, extracted and size fractionated (according to size classes D1–D4) while for a limited number of samples (≈10% of the total) the analysis will include the estimation of plastic particles in a range of 1µm–700 nm (D5) to provide preliminary results about the occurrence of nanoplastics in the investigated marine environment.
The outcomes of this task will be to document possible pipe fragmentation, with estimation of tube loss in weight as well as the quantification of particles, and size distribution of the released particles during regular fish feeder systems operative conditions.
WP3: ‘Map possible emissions of plastic and micro-plastic from an aquaculture facility’
WP leader: M. Haave, UNI-NORCE.
• To characterize and quantify plastic litter in all affected environmental compartments near a seafood production site.
• To facilitate the inter-method calibration between and outside the participant laboratories.
• To discriminate the contribution from aquaculture activities from other external, diffuse input sources in a complex scenario dominated by different anthropogenic activities.
• To assess the most up-to-date and effective methods for microplastics assessment in the aquatic environment to support the release of a guideline for microplastics analysis in the aquaculture production sector.
WP3 will investigate the occurrence of plastic fragments in different environmental matrices potentially affected by aquaculture production activities such as marine sediments, seawater (in connection with activities of WP1, task 2.2), suspended matter and biota (farmed Atlantic salmon) close to an active aquaculture facility. The selected investigation site is owned by Marine Harvest (MHv). The company will provide access to the facility, help with the collection of samples including farmed salmon. Similarly, to what has been introduced in WP2 description, the analytical method for plastic debris analysis performed in this WP consists of a multi-step enzymatic-strong alkali sample purification process followed by density separation following the recommendations of NIVA (NIVA, 2017).
Samples will be size fractioned in four dimensional classes (D1–D4, see WP2 for reference) to ensure comparable results across the different project activities developed. Each fraction is than quantified and characterized for polymer composition and relative abundance according to the previously outlined sample’s analysis strategy. Furthermore, a preliminary characterization of all plastic materials routinely involved in the aquaculture production operations will be performed aiming to find a correlation among industrial activity-related emission and plastics occurrence in the investigated environmental matrices. The investigations addressed by the WP2 are organized into four tasks:
Task 3.1: Quantification, distribution and characterization of plastic fragments in marine sediments near an aquaculture production site
Task leader: M. Haave, UNI-NORCE.
A consolidated sampling strategy derived from extensive experience with the monitoring of O&G off-shore fields will be adapted to assess patterns in the distribution of plastic fragments on the seafloor near the selected aquaculture site. The sampling grid will consist of two intersected transects with the first transect positioned parallel to the direction of the main recurring current and the second orthogonal to the first. The two transects will be centered in the aquaculture site with the closest sampling point underneath the pens plus further sampling points in the transects located at 25, 100 and 1000 m far from the facility. Sediment samples will be collected by a Van Ween grab and analyzed for microplastic content. A microplastic sediment separator at UNI-NORCE will be used for density separation. The method has a high recovery rate even for the smallest microplastic particles and Uni Research has excellent experience in using this method from several ongoing and completed projects. Distinct sampling sessions will be performed before and during the seafood production, and samples will be collected during ongoing samplings MOM-investigations.
Task 3.2: Quantification and characterization of plastic fragments in suspended matter collected near an aquaculture production site
Task leader: T. Kogel, HI.
In order to model the possible transfer of plastic fragments from the surface to the seafloor associated with the fish feeding procedures, sediment traps will be placed for a week at two depths (-5 and -20 m) at two sites both close to the pens and in an area not influenced by fish production activities. Traps will be placed before and during the seafood production phases to discriminate aquaculture production related shifts in vertical fluxes of plastics fragments. Trapped material will be estimated by mass in order to calculate sedimentation rates and further processed for plastic analysis. Outcomes will be presented in terms of particles’ sizes, recurring shapes and form, polymeric composition, relative and total polymer abundance.
Task 3.3: Quantification and characterization of plastic fragments in seawater near an aquaculture production site
Task leader: A. Gomiero, IRIS-NORCE.
The task aims at discriminating the contribution from aquaculture activities from other diffuse input sources in the complex scenario of coastal areas dominated by different anthropogenic activities. The activities performed under this task are closely related to task 2.2. Methods and approaches have been previously described (task 2.2). The comparison among results obtained between the control site and the site inside the pen will allow for discriminating the contribution of the aquaculture industry versus the emission of diffuse input sources derived from other anthropogenic activities coexisting in the investigated area.
Task 3.4: Quantification and characterization of plastic fragments in some organs of farmed salmon
Task leader: M. Gjessing, Norwegian Veterinary Institute.
Within this task, samples of farmed salmon and wild salmon will be used as a dynamic model to assess the availability of plastic fragments in aquatic environments and if they are accumulated in fish. The level of accumulation, patterns and variation in polymer distribution and types of particles observed in some key organs like the gill or the digestive tract of fish may contribute to the discrimination of some environmental input sources. Histological sections of the gills of 20 individuals collected in the pen during the feeding phase will be analyzed and compared with wild fish by specialists at the Veterinary Institute.
IRIS-NORCE and HI will investigate the total amount, polymer composition, and particle shape in the digestive tract of the same sampled individuals collected in the selected Marine Harvest salmon production facility. Therefore, the outcomes of the investigations of such biological samples will be compared with the outcomes of tasks 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 of WP2 and 3.
The final goal is to find a correlation among potential emissions from aquaculture as well as to discriminate the contribution from other emission sources. To assess this, analyses will be performed on farmed salmon and compared with results obtained from wild salmonids collected far from the aquaculture site.
WP4: ‘Evaluation of collected data and identification of possible measures targeting emissions reduction’
• To identify the industrial processes in the seafood production majorly responsible of possible plastic discharge and suggest possible implementation and measures to reduce emissions.
• To develop a draft action plan for reducing possible plastic emissions from the seafood industry.
This WP will revise all data collected within WP2 and 3. Results from each of the identified tasks will be compared to the environmental samples in WP3, in order to find correlation among mapped sources of emissions in the aquaculture industry and observed environmental concentrations of plastic fragments in analyzed environmental samples. Matching criteria will consider, but will not be limited to, the input source dependent polymer composition and abundance, shape and dimension of the particles, and the expected environmental fate according to the plastic’s chemical properties.
Multivariate statistical analysis tools will be used to discriminate the fingerprint of aquaculture from other diffuse input sources of plastic debris resulting from other different anthropogenic activities.. According to the results, an estimation of emissions rates and distribution fluxes will be performed, to provide data to assist environmental modelers to perform more accurate simulations on the occurrence and distribution of plastic particles in the aquatic environment as well as to assist eco toxicologists to investigate their possible toxicological and biological implications for aquatic life.
The secondary objective of the WP will be to identify possible measures to reduce possible plastic emissions. Each industrial partner, according to the specific competence will target processes in the aquaculture production identified as responsible of possible plastic discharge and will try to provide technical solutions for plastic litter reduction. SKr will provide expert advice based on results from task 1.1; AkG will contribute with technical solutions after the evaluation of results from task 2.2.
There is great public awareness about the plastic problem, and a strong need for scientifically based assessments of food safety and the environment's health. Communication to interest groups will therefore be of great importance in the project. We aim to communicate the findings both via popular science material and through scientific forums and publications. The project partners have their own communication departments that will communicate relevant aspects and news from the ongoing project within the institutes as well as on the official website (www.uni.no, www.iris.no, www.imr.no).
Popular science publications
There will be at least two articles in newspapers such as the Bergens tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad and Aftenposten Viten. The project partners will also contribute to articles in the trade journals Fiskaren and Fiskeribladet, which have already been contacted and shown interest in disseminating the matter.
Science publications and conferences contributions
Following the project, quality assured publishable results will be presented at scientific conferences of relevance, such as the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC), the International Symposium on Persistent and Toxic Substances (ISPTS), the Aquaculture Conference, the Aqua Nor Conference, the Norwegian Environmental Toxicology Symposium (NETS) and MICRO2019. At least one article to be published in a peer-reviewed journal is expected.
Professional seminar / workshop for interest groups
Two workshops, one at the beginning and one at the end of the project, will invite scientific disciplines and interest groups such as the Environment Directorate, the Norwegian Public Health Institute, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, Seafood Norway, NCE Seafood and local authorities, Fylkesmannen and Fylkeskommune of both Hordaland and Rogaland regions.