Green Party leader salmon farm critic computer scientist worked for AI aquaculture start-up

Nova Scotia Green Party leader Thomas Trappenberg called for a ban on open pen aquaculture. This was despite helping ReelData, a start-up fish farm technology company, to get off the ground last year. 

In a statement in April, Trappenberg, the Green Party head of the Eastern Canadian region of Nova Scotia, wrote: “There is direct evidence that open pen aquaculture poisons ocean waters. Fish waste, disease, and contamination from medicines destroys traditional fisheries, on which South Shore families depend. The community has spoken: no open pen fish farms here,” he added.

Trappenberg also revealed in the release that he had an “inside operational perspective on the industry”. He said that as “an internationally trained scientist and professor at Dalhousie University, he helped start-up Reel Data AI develop artificial intelligence (AI) systems for the much safer land based aquaculture industry”.

However, ReelData, a Halifax-based start-up which uses Artificial Intelligence to monitor fish growth and health does not single out single out the land based aquaculture industry for its tech, it also does ocean farming. “ReelData now has paid pilot projects in Canada and the U.S., including with a major company in a central state in the U.S. that operates an on-land fish farm — a growing segment of the aquaculture market. The founders are also in discussions with operators in Mexico, Denmark and Iceland,” ReelData wrote in a press release last year.

It started working with Cooke Aquaculture on a site in February. Though Trappenberg singled out this salmon farmer as the “worst of all”. “Cooke Aquaculture has cost Nova Scotia taxpayers tens of millions dollars, threatening jobs and livelihoods of traditional fishers,” he said.

“The young people just wanted to make money”
Talking to CBC, Trappenberg said he was distancing himself from ReelData: “I’m not working with them anymore. I thought they would be much more progressive and really concentrate on solutions so that we solve problems. The young people just wanted to make money, which is understandable. So for me it was more important to, you know, do other things and do what I think is right for me”.

The Dalhousie artificial intelligence and robotics professor, who is highly experienced in theoretical neuroscience and neural computation, did not just work with the company – which does biomass estimation, feed optimisation, predictive insignias and sea lice counting. The publication wrote that he helped ReelData win a 2019 competition for investment from provincial Crown corporation Innovacorp.

“Naive perspective”
However in response to the criticism, Cooke spokesperson Joel Richardson told CBC : “The current farmed salmon production in Canada alone would require 28,000 football fields, 33,719 acres or 159 square kilometres of deforested land to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems,” he said. “Ocean farming has a lower carbon footprint, uses far less manufactured energy and far less freshwater.”

“To our knowledge, Mr. Trappenberg may no longer be involved with ReelData — perhaps due to his overall lack of experience and naive perspective of the commercial aquaculture industry,” he added.


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