Kaylie: Hi, welcome, and thank you for tuning in to the AGRU America podcast. Today, we will talk about geosynthetics and aquaculture. Joining me is Cody Miles. Together, we will discuss how plastics are contributing toward the growth of an exciting industry that can help alleviate food shortages around the world. Welcome, Cody.
Cody: Thank you Kaylie.
Kaylie: By definition, aquaculture is the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish and other organisms in water environments. This form food production has been around for centuries but has seen enormous growth—more than 500%—over the last three decades. Why do think aquaculture is growing in popularity?
Cody: I think a lot of the growth in aquaculture has to do with new technologies contributing toward the creation of sustainable operations as well as improved management practices. Before, it was very difficult to scale up a profitable operation. Today, thanks to new construction materials and precision fish farming, businesses can maintain a healthy stock and generate reliable profit.
Kaylie: I know geosynthetics are one of those new construction materials being used in aquaculture. How are some ways that geosynthetics has contributed to the industry?
Cody: First, I think it is important to mention that aquaculture as an industry is huge in terms of all the different ways you can go about implementing the farming process. As I hinted at before, economies of scale work differently in aquaculture. Large- and small-scale operations have different challenges and therefore look for different solutions. I’d say geosynthetics in general are more likely to be used to create solutions for larger-scale operations.
Kaylie: That makes sense. Could you talk a bit more about large-scale fish farming? What are some distinctive features?
Cody: I think a key feature is the management of fish. In large-scale aquaculture, anything that helps streamline the management of the fish stock is essential to keeping operational overhead as low as possible. Of course, how you manage the fish also depends on whether operations are primarily land- or sea-based.
Kaylie: OK, so different approaches to fish farming depending on choice of environment.
Cody: Yeah, exactly. When you tally up factors like economics, regulations, geography, and demand, it might make more sense to deploy on land rather than in the sea. And in some cases, a business may require both—land-based tanks for the hatchery phase and sea-based tanks for growth and collection, for example.
Kaylie: How do geosynthetics fit into all of this?
Cody: Let’s start with sea-based aquaculture. There are many designs, but the common approach typically involves creating a floating fish tank of sorts. If you are setting up a small-scale operation, the material used to build the tank may not matter too much. But building a large tank requires a different set of considerations.
Kaylie: This reminds me of the Ocean Cleanup project, finding the right material for a large-scale sea-based construction also proved challenging for them due to tidal forces, seawater corrosion, and UV exposure. They also landed on geosynthetics as their solution.
Cody: That’s right. There are many different types of geosynthetic resins. Some resins can be used to create products with the right balance of strength, flexibility, durability, and resistances to make them well suited as a material for sea-based constructions.
Kaylie: What kind of products, exactly?
Cody: In some recent projects, for example, customers used our semi-finished products to create solid-walled cages. Because our semi-finished products are available as sheet stock, customers can easily fabricate cages to their exact specifications. We also manufacture the largest diameter HDPE pipes in North America, should customers choose to go with the floating ring and net approach.
Kaylie: What about land-based aquaculture? How can geosynthetics contribute there?
Cody: There are actually quite a few ways. Take the concrete tanks for starters. As you know, concrete tanks tend to corrode when exposed to certain media. That corrosion can lead to surface imperfections along the inside of the tank. As the fish stock move along the tank, they can rub against these rough surfaces and sustain injuries that decrease their growth rate and ultimately impact the bottom line.
Kaylie: A cascade of events all from the result of concrete corrosion.
Cody: Yeah, and the solution can be quite elegant, providing multiple benefits. We manufacture a concrete protective liner called Ultra Grip, which can be used to line the inner walls of the concrete tanks. The liner protects against corrosion while also ensuring a smooth, clean surface for the fish stock that helps prevent injuries. And if concrete isn’t necessary, then our sheet stock can also be used to make highly durable and lightweight polyethylene tanks that are also resistant to corrosion.
Kaylie: Doesn’t land-based aquaculture often involve systems to regulate water conditions for the fish stock?
Cody: Yes, and geosynthetics do have a role to play there as well. For example, many of the challenges that municipalities experience with infiltration and exfiltration are shared with fish farms that use RAS, short for recirculating aquaculture system.
Kaylie: When you say exfiltration, I’m thinking issues with leaks at pipe joints.
Cody: Pipe joints are exactly where many challenges originate. Our AGRULINE products are an important part of our land-based aquaculture solution. AGRULINE includes pipes, fittings, and valves made with high-quality stress-crack–resistant polyethylene. Another core benefit is AGRULINE’s ability to be fused to create joints that do not leak.
Kaylie: You mentioned the benefits of using these products. What is the alternative? What are some of the drawbacks of not choosing geosynthetics?
Cody: As it stands, aquaculture can be quite complex to setup properly. But once all the parts are in place, operations should be relatively straightforward. Ideally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the majority of the operating costs in an efficient fish farm comes from the feed. Therefore, using components such as cages or pipe systems that require frequent maintenance can skew the costs and create inefficiencies, ultimately harming the long-term success of the business.
Kaylie: How do you see the relationship between geosynthetics and aquaculture evolving in the near future?
Cody: I think the aquaculture industry will increasingly turn to geosynthetics as the material of choice for solving challenges and creating sustainable operations, similar to how geosynthetics are now regularly used by utilities, municipalities, and mining companies. We’re excited to see how aquaculture companies continue to innovate and use our products in clever new ways.
Kaylie: Thank you for joining me today Cody. And to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. We hope that you’ve found this podcast informative. To learn more about AGRU’s land- and sea-based aquaculture solutions, visit us online at AGRU America dot COM.