News & Press: Maritime

Autonomously Navigated Vessels Help Scientists Estimate Fish Abundance While Protecting Human Health

08 June 2020   (0 Comments)
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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries plans to use autonomous surface vehicles to help fill in the gap resulting from the cancellation of FY20 ship-based surveys due to the COVID-19 pandemic to collect some critically needed data to support management of the nation’s largest commercial fishery for Alaska pollock.

NOAA has a broader strategy, released in February, to expand the use of emerging science and technologies that includes unmanned systems.
Three saildrones, which are unmanned wind-powered surface vehicles, are (at time of writing) on a six-week journey sailing autonomously from California to the eastern Bering Sea, expected to reach Alaska in early July. The saildrones will then begin a 60-day survey during which they will cover roughly the same area normally covered by standard research vessels to estimate the abundance of pollock using echosounders. Echosounders are low-power sonar instruments that send sound pulses into the water and measure how much energy echoes back from the fish.

The saildrones are also equipped with solar-powered instruments to measure oceanographic and meteorological conditions to take wind, solar radiation, surface temperature, and salinity measurements along the way. Summaries of this environmental data, as well as echosounder data and photos, will be transmitted to shore via the saildrone’s satellite modem four times per hour throughout the survey.The satellite link will also allow the scientists to adjust the course of the saildrone if necessary.

This project is an example of unmanned vessel surveys helping scientists provide some key scientific data at a time when it is difficult to collect such data through traditional means.