‘Preventing infection is crucial, to do that, you have to be able to remove sick fish quickly’

Matthew Wilcox

Filtering out mortalities and cleaner fish has long been a major challenge for the salmon farming industry, one company is pioneering a radically different solution. 

“There’s a lot of high-tech equipment being used in the industry these days, but the ways they’ve handled the fish have stayed the same, more or less, since the industry started,” Voatec founder Stefan Paulsen tells SalmonBusiness.

Voatec AS, established in 2020 by industry veterans Odd-Arne Korneliussen, Torje Johannessen, and Stefan Paulsen, is based in Finnsnes in Senja municipality, one of Norway’s largest seafood regions. The company is dedicated to creating innovative solutions for aquaculture, focusing on fish welfare and handling.

Voatec founder Stefan Paulsen. Photo: Voatec

Paulsen likens existing technology to the simple nets used in home aquariums to pull out sick goldfish, highlighting the need for more advanced approaches.

Our product has a completely different reach than a net and gets out fish that would not be possible otherwise,” he says.

A Game-Changer

Voatec’s flagship product, the 360FishSweep, has been a game-changer in fish handling.

Developed in collaboration with Norwegian salmon farming giants SalMar and Lerøy, this system has removed more than a million cleaner fish and several hundred thousand of diseased or injured salmon since it was first developed – addressing increasingly pressing concerns about fish welfare.

“Preventing infection is crucial, and to do that, you must be able to remove sick fish quickly. We believe this system will become a mainstream farming tool in the future,” says Paulsen, who emphasizes that Voatec is a small, young company focused on developing solutions.

Paulsen credits local producer’ support in testing and refining the company’s innovations. And despite being a small startup, Voatec has made significant strides. The 360FishSweep is now used by 21 farmers across Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Scotland. 

Voatec’s 360FishSweep.

Tackling Industry Challenges

Fishing for cleaner fish has been a major challenge, especially with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s stringent regulations. Although the use of cleaner fish has seen a decline, there is still a strong need for effective fish welfare management tools, says Paulsen.

Voatec’s system works because cleaner fish congregate along the wall of the net in the upper water layer. The trawl, with its movable door creating constant contact with the pen wall, funnels the fish into a trawl bag, making the collection process simple and predictable. The trawl makes use of the capstan on the work boat as a propulsion and the crane lifts the trawl and collected fish on board for processing once the trawl has completed a 360 degree sweep.

During the winter of 2023, a number of producers faced health challenges with their fish, often dealing with large quantities of affected fish in a short time. Paulsen recalls how local farmers in the Senja region reached out for help.

“When you’re in a tough situation with many wounded and sick fish, it’s worth trying to trawl them out with our system,” he says. 

Rapid Growth and New Innovations

Voatec has experienced rapid growth, though not without challenges. “We’ve actually been so busy, we ran out of stock many times last winter. Since the 360FishSweep was originally a side project for us, it quickly become unsustainable to keep up with the demand. We’re therefore planning ahead for a new challenging winter in the industry and will be prepared,” said Paulsen.

Stefan Paulsen. Photo: Voatec

The fluctuating use of cleaner fish in Norway has also impacted Voatec. “We saw that the production of lumpfish was declining rapidly, but the need for an efficient tool to remove sick and wounded salmon increased. This has balanced things out,” Paulsen noted.

After the company released the 360FishSweep in late 2022, sales for 2023 totalled at NOK 5.4 million ($510,000). This number has, according to Paulsen, already been surpassed in 2024.

“We’re expanding our business to increase production and maintain progress with our R&D projects. We see that the international market needs dedicated attention, and a collaboration with other Norwegian suppliers is something we’re looking into as well,” Paulsen says. 

Future Developments

The 360FishSweep is not Voatec’s only innovation. The company is also developing a mesh system designed to filter sea lice larvae and other organisms and particles from the water. This project, still in its research phase, aims to prevent infestations by targeting the early stages of sea lice life cycles.

“We’ve been working on this idea since start-up and are currently running an R&D project with a local salmon producer to quantify the system’s impact,” Paulsen says.

Voatec’s reach is expanding beyond Norway, with interest from the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Scotland. “We have a trial period with a major player in Scotland, and we’re also involved in a project towards the Canadian market,” Paulsen says. 

New product

The company is now releasing a new product for the industry, a floating storage cage for handling sick and wounded fish, called the “VØA-ring.” This patent-pending innovation eliminates the need for technicians to constantly walk back and forth to the work boat with just a few fish at a time. The floating storage cage is dragged along while the technician puts fish in it. Once the round of the pen is complete, the cage is lifted on board the boat with a crane and emptied into a storage container with a quick release function.

“This makes the process much more efficient and ergonomic for the technicians. We are very eager to see the response, although initial feedback from local farmers is very promising,” as Paulsen says.

Looking Ahead

Voatec aims to continue expanding its market presence and developing new solutions.

“New products and different approaches require time to mature in the aquaculture industry. We’re still in the phase where we need to be patient and let people get used to our way of handling fish. But we’re also excited to see that that more site managers and fish health managers discover our products and their potential,” Paulsen concluded.


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