IT Tralee researchers are developing a high-tech tracking system for Irish Oyster Farms

IT Tralee researchers are developing a cost-effective tracking system targeted at higher crop yields and greater food traceability.

Oyster Farm

IT Tralee researchers are developing a cost-effective system suitable for the Irish oyster growing industry encompassing automated tracing, process monitoring, process requirement alert, and yield monitoring/prediction system.

The final system will comprise a fully functional computerised tracking system capable of accurately identifying individual oyster bags on the oyster farm and logging all stage of the growth and processing of the oysters. Bags will be located and targeted for processing through GPS and advanced tagging using low-cost rugged handheld devices. This will create a much more efficient oyster farm and provide greater food traceability for customers.

In addition, the system is being designed to be capable of environmental monitoring via feedback from a series of deployed water quality sensors and data feeds from national and international monitoring systems and data portals. A bespoke process mapping and yield monitoring system will monitor, raise alarms and predict yield with outputs delivered to the farm operator via a digital dashboard. 

The research sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara under the Knowledge Gateway Scheme, is led by a team of five researchers at the IMaR research centre at IT Tralee. The research team are collaborating with a BIM shellfish aquaculture specialist and engaging with a network of collaborating Irish oyster farms to deliver the project. The collaboration with Irish oyster farmers ensures that the system under development is designed to meet the needs of the Irish oyster industry.

A test farm was established in January 2020, where a test bed was tracked by the first prototype system. Growth and mortality data were precisely tracked by the research team with the new management system. Further development is currently on-going using data from the trial farm to inform the process mapping and task notification systems, with live trials on commercial farms set to begin in early 2021. 

Damien Reid, Managing Director, Donegal Bay Oysters Ltd. spoke about the impact the Aqua Tech project will have on his and other Irish oyster farming businesses: 

"I am really excited about the automation that the Aqua Tech project offers to oyster farming. Currently we have zero automation on our farm. We record stock information on paper, we assign tasks to be completed in person or by phone, and we store the farm layout in our heads by memory. A system that would allow us to view in realtime the stock densities on our farm would be a total game changer. We could better co-ordinate everything, from simple tasks to oyster sales, with an interactive farm map that would allow us to get an immediate snapshot of what oysters we currently have in stock. We would lose less stock to poor shape or over cultivation with a system that leaves nothing unaccounted for when it comes to task management. We could better co-ordinate our sales with a system which will inform us what oyster will be available for sale in the coming months. The useful analytics, digital compliance procedures and environmental condition monitoring features will also allow us to gain an understanding of our oyster farm that we never had before. There has been a number of challenges in recent years in Irish oyster farming; with huge stock mortalities due to Harmful Algae Blooms, legacy issues with the aquaculture licencing system and market closures owing to the coronavirus pandemic, accordingly there has never been a more urgent need to improve oyster stock management and to streamline and simplify productivity. We here at Donegal Bay Oysters Ltd are very much looking forward to the opportunities the Aqua Tech project offers to bring to oyster farming."