The expansion of the aquaculture sector in Portugal and Israel must be made in a context of environmental, economic and social sustainability. The integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA, also known as aquaponics) approach is recommended by FAO and other important bodies to accomplish environmental sustainability by bio-mitigation of aquaculture wastes while contributing to economic stability by product diversification. Salt tolerant plants (halophytes) have been introduced in Israel in fish-halophyte IMTA, an innovation that has allowed using saline soils (often available in coastal regions near pond fish farms) instead of the costly ponds for the plant component. Market value of the annual halophyte Salicornia spp., also known as sea asparagus, have made this approach economically attractive in Israel. The Israeli farmers, however, recently preferred growing the perennial Sarcocornia spp., with very similar organoleptic properties than Salicornia, even though it shows inferior growth rates and extended blooming period (a negative trait). In Portugal, this approach is still in its infancy.
The objectives of SaltyCrops are: 1) develop and optimize the production of faster-growing, shorter-blooming and higher food-quality Sarcocornia varieties for fish or shrimp-halophyte IMTA farms, and 2) identify and develop biochemical products from the inedible parts of Sarcocornia.
In both countries, Sarcocornia seeds will be collected along the coastlines, germinated and selected for IMTA cultivation, based on their growth rate and salt tolerance.
In Portugal, selected ecotypes will be cultivated in different hydroponic structures, coupled with seabream and seabass production.
In Israel, selected ecotypes will be used to construct a wetland irrigated with effluents from a semi-open recirculating mariculture producing sea bream. In both countries, growth, yield, flowering season and duration will be evaluated throughout the year with respect to several agro-technics.
Finally, in both countries, edible parts of produced fish and halophytes will be characterized for selected properties, aiming its valorisation in the food industry, while non-edible parts of produced plants and appraised for functional assets, aiming its valorisation in the cosmetic and nutraceutical areas.