Jul 10 2018

NOAA launches drones to sail the West Coast, survey anchovies, sardines and other fish

(Photo: Courtesy of John Gussman)

A bright orange and yellow drone boat will set sail in August, skimming down the West Coast as it collects data on fish and possibly changes the way experts study the ocean.

It’s one of five on a summer-long expedition to test the drones’ accuracy in assessing West Coast fish stocks. Those surveys help set limits on just how much fish can be caught each year.

“You want to use the best available science to come up with the best estimate of what the stock is, so that you can give a fair shake to the fishermen,” said Toby Garfield, director of environmental research division at Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

Typically, the surveys are done by ship. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration teamed up with Oceans Canada and Saildrone Inc. to test out the drones.

This is one alternative to collecting the data – one that may be able to go places ships can’t or to better estimate how many fish are out there, Garfield said.

Satellite imagery changed the way researchers looked at the ocean, he said, and “tools like Saildrone will give us another way to actually sample” it.

Two drones were launched last week from Neah Bay, Washington, and a second pair will be launched shortly. All four of those will follow the route of the NOAA ship Reuben Lasker.

Operators control the unmanned watercraft remotely from Saildrone’s headquarters in Alameda, California. Plans call for the drones to collect acoustic data on hake and pelagic fish, like sardines and anchovy, for up to 100 days.

 

Five Saildrones will be launched on the West Coast this summer. (Photo: Courtesy of John Gussman)

 

“Our ship is out there now. It’s out doing an 80-day survey from Vancouver Island down to the Mexican border,” Garfield said. “The two pairs are going to replicate that tract.”

Researchers will then compare the ship’s information to what’s collected by the drones to see if the new technology could be used to replicate some of the ship’s surveys.

They already know there will be differences, including that the drones will move slowly, about 1 or 2 knots.

There’s also a chance the drones could come closer to shore than the ships, which could help expand the surveys. Whether that’s possible depends on a lot of variables from the abundance of kelp to the number of recreational boats on the water.

That’s where the fifth drone comes in.

“That’s the one we’re going to try to use to explore whether we can come farther into shore,” Garfield said.

They’ll also want to use that drone to test whether it could sail in front of the ship to pinpoint the best spots to sample and, if instead of chasing the fish, they could use the drone in one area to track them as they swim by.

The fifth drone is scheduled to launch off Alameda on Aug. 13 and will be sailing for about six months. But it may not reach Ventura County.

“Originally, we were going to have the Saildrone operate all the way down to San Diego,” Garfield said Tuesday.

But the company had concerns about the traffic in the Santa Barbara Channel, as well as light winds in the summertime.

They’re going to make a decision closer to the date of the launch, he said. “It’s really going to depend on conditions.”

To follow the drones’ progress, go to NOAA’s blog at https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/news/blogs.


Original post and video: https://www.vcstar.com/

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