Let's assume that you live in the Jerusalem hills or in arid Las Vegas and you want to found a business to grow sea fish for food. Once upon a time, you would have had to migrate to the coast or lakeshore. Now it is possible to raise fish in the middle of the desert, even without a well for water, just plastic pools little different from what children play in, in backyards.
Yaron Gissin, formerly a Foreign Ministry official responsible for technology and later an IT entrepreneur, founded GFA Advanced Systems Ltd. (Grow Fish Anywhere) as an interesting idea for a start-up. With several partners, he visited the Faculty of Agriculture at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where Prof. Yap Van Rein showed them the technology that he invented.
"We were first asked what we had to do with fish," said Gissin, but he and his colleagues persevered, dived into the world of aquaculture, and seem to be swimming in it quite well. "We had heard about the collapse of fish stocks and the pollution caused by the fish cages at Eilat. We knew that pollution was the number one problem for fish farmers."
Gissin told "Globes", "At the university, we saw a project that verged on science fiction. Although there were only two fish tanks of five cubic meters each, we could see that this was a pollution-free system with full environmental controls. The challenge was to expand production to an industrial scale."
The two main pollutants that most trouble fish farmers (and their coral reef neighbors) are industrial waste and fish feces, both of which damage marine ecologies.
"Our system is a closed system that prevents contaminating the outside, creating a complete solution to the problem of pollution from fish waste," says GFA CEO Dotan Bar-Noi. The company's fish tanks are made from ordinary plastic, and the water is ordinary tap water with salt added. The sophistication is in the system to clean the water of fish feces.
"This task is carried out by biofilters, purifiers made from specialized bacteria that break down the nitrogen and carbon compounds in fish waste and convert it into carbon dioxide and gaseous nitrogen, which are discharged harmlessly into the atmosphere. The bacteria work round the clock, do not need electricity, and are so efficient that there is no need to replace the water in the fish tanks," says Bar-Noi.
Van Rein says, "The switch from ordinary purification systems was not easy because the water entering the system is completely different, as is the water leaving it."
The system can raise fish more quickly because its environmental system fully controls the minerals in the water and its temperature. "Wild fish stocks are falling, and our product can raise fish almost anywhere, with high economic viability, and without pollution," says Bar-Noi.
GFA raised over $6 million in 2008. It used the proceeds to build a semi-commercial pilot in Israel, which sells fish to the local market as part of the company's plan to accumulate real market experience.
"The response to the fish was good. They are the same as produce from the sea, except that there is no fear of contamination," says Gissin.
In early 2009, GFA set up a commercial project in upstate New York, which raises bream and markets it locally. "The system can be adapted to any species of fish by controlling the temperature, acidity, and salinity," says Bar-Noi.
Van Rein is worried by the current condition of wild fish stocks. "There are only 90 million tons of fish in all the world's oceans and lakes, and whole species face extinction."
Gissin promises that there is no cruelty to fish in raising them in small ponds rather than in the open sea. "We keep their density at ordinary levels, since the fish swim in schools. As for waste, fish don’t like swimming in it as happens in current fish farms. As we understand it, the fish are actually happier in the new conditions."
In October, GFA raised over NIS 18 million from a Dutch fund that specializes in marine ventures. "This investment was a vote of confidence in the technology and in the team. We will use the proceeds to set up full fish farms using the company's method," says Bar-Noi. "We hope that, in future, an ever growing proportion of fish will be raised with our systems, which do not harm the environment and provide fresh fish close to consumers."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 23, 2011
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