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How Lasers will Save the World from Bloodsucking Parasites

September 24, 2018

The enormous loss of ocean life, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent, is well documented. Three billion people already depend on fish for protein, and global demand for seafood is predicted to grow at least 40 percent in the next two decades.

That’s what’s called a conundrum, and the only way to fix it is sustainable aquaculture — fish farming — on a massive scale. As with any enormous undertaking, there is a fly in the ointment. But for aquaculture, the fly is putting the entire $14-billion-a-year industry at risk.

As you’ll see, one of the solutions is near and dear to our hearts here at IRD Glass: lasers.

We are a trusted manufacturer in the laser OEM market, providing cavity reflectors for the solid-state laser industry, HLDT/HR steering mirrors, splatter shields, precision spacers and tooling, beamsplitters, custom corner cubes, filters and many other custom components.

Meet Marine Harvest

Marine Harvest is the largest salmon fishery in the world. They operate 220 farms across the globe in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Chile, Canada and the Faroe Islands. Each farm contains dozens of cages, and each cage is home to around 200,000 fish. The scale is necessarily massive, given the demand.

A third of Marine Harvest’s fish are certified “sustainably farmed,” and can be found at Whole Foods locations and eco-friendly restaurants across the globe.

Even less environmentally-conscious aquaculture operations are still considered far more sustainable than their peers on land. It takes seven pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef and two for a pound of chicken. A pound of farmed salmon requires just 1.2 pounds of feed.

Marine Harvest’s goal isn’t just to compete with traditional commercial fishers. Their goal is to provide sustainable protein to billions of people and compete with meat producer giants like Tyson Food and Smithfield.

But there’s a big problem

Between 2015 and 2017 Marine Harvest’s production has declined by 12 percent. Some smaller aquaculture firms have been hit much, much harder. The problem is sea lice — lepeophtheirus salmonis — and they have infected every last one of Marine Harvest’s 220 farms.

Sea lice are pea-sized crustaceans that cling to fish scales consuming blood and flesh. About 12 of them can kill a fish, and infestations can number in the hundreds of thousands.

Wild salmon have coexisted with sea lice for millennia, but highly concentrated populations of captive salmon may not be able to. The moment an infestation is detected, aqua farmers have no choice but to harvest the fish, regardless of what stage of development they’re at. Otherwise they risk losing the entire cage. The fish in a single cage are worth tens of millions of dollars.

Wrasse and lumpsuckers, two types of “cleaner” fish that nibble sea lice off salmon in the wild, are added to cages, but they can’t keep up with large infestations.

Billions — seriously, billions — are being invested in potential solutions, but the Stingray is by far the coolest. It’s almost as cool as sharks with frickin’ lasers on their heads.

The Stingray is an underwater laser and AI-powered drone that deposits food pellets to farmed salmon and uses a sensor and a surgical diode laser beam (think eye surgery and hair removal) to identify and zap sea lice without harming the salmon.


Though one or two Stingray can do the work of 10,000 cleaner fish, the latter have not been eliminated from salmon farms.

The drones’ lasers work in conjunction with cleaner fish, which are better at removing sea lice under fins and beneath the salmon’s gills. Together, they have achieved a 50 percent reduction in lice populations where they have been used. Because the system is AI-enabled, it has become better and better at identifying and destroying sea lice in their various stages of development.

As it stands the Stingray and its lasers are a preventative measure, eliminating wandering sea lice to prevent full-blown infestations. It remains to be seen whether the technology can be used to fight off a large infestation. 

About IRD Glass

IRD Glass is a trusted sole-source provider to both large and small corporations across the planet, creating precision custom laser optics, sapphire components, and ceramic components of the highest quality.

We were recently awarded a Certificate for Exceptional Quality Performance by Honeywell after we achieved zero parts-per-million defects in the last 12 months.

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