The world-first project will help to provide people living in barren regions with a vital source of protein and a valuable, if unlikely, cash crop.
The intensive fish-growing system being developed can be set up anywhere in the world. Environmental geochemist Michael Krom is co-ordinating the £600,000 international project, which aims to produce a working system within eighteen months.
A small-scale system will be built in the Negev desert at Eilat, Israel, and will be home for thousands of seabream.
Growing marine fish in artificial environments is difficult because the fish produce nitrogen-rich waste, which has to be constantly removed. Bacteria do this effectively, but the cocktail of chemicals in brine means the bugs can also produce gas which poisons the fish.
One of the most crucial aspects of the project will be developing a cartridge to identify the presence of this toxic hydrogen sulphide, and then remove it.
The new recirculating mariculture production system will also be environmentally friendly. Fish waste and excess food will be filtered from the water and broken down in a series of stages before being discharged. The team will monitor the system and develop a computer model of the processes within it, to apply the technology on a larger scale. A second, more advanced plant is already planned for Greece.
University earth scientists Rob Raiswell and Simon Poulton are also working on the project, which is being carried out jointly with universities and institutes in Israel, Denmark and Greece.
Dr Krom says the system will be more efficient and cleaner than the tanks currently used in seawater centres world-wide, but they will not affect the average goldfish fan. "Freshwater fish like trout can already be farmed quite easily, but we all like to eat seafish with our chips don’t we!"
University of Loughborough. February 1999.