A growing network of commercial fishing vessels and private companies are using sensors attached to fishing gear to inexpensively collect crucial ocean data in fisheries science, climate modeling and more, such as temperature and salinity. Traditionally collected at high cost by research vessels, moorings and gliders, data collected by fishing vessels offers ocean observers a cost-effective way to increase their coverage.
“It’s spread throughout the scientific community that we’re offering affordable fieldwork,” said committee member Jim Moore. Alaska Trollers Association (ATA). “Here our interests converge: the better the science, the more fact-based knowledge, the healthier the relationship between fisheries and managers.”
Moore is working to outfit 10 ATA ships with marine observation equipment as part of a grant-funded pilot program, one of which. many such collaborations among ocean watchers and fishermen across the country. Ocean Data Network (ODN) Maine-based data collection company has recently been named a winner World Economic Forum’s Ocean Data Challengewill be the back-end data management team, exemplifying the aligned interests of fisheries and science.
“It’s not just that it’s more profitable” said Cooper Van Vranken, founder of ODN, “but fishing data is also being collected in the areas of most oceanographic interest and most important to fisheries and all other types of users. The future of ocean observation is a symphony of different observation platforms and fishing vessels they will be a very important part of it all.”
“How does developing and participating in this project benefit our fleet?” Moore said. “A good troller is a natural scientist… and when we get it right, it rewards us with a nice catch at the end of the day. That is applied science.’
Temperature and salinity are the most widely used ocean variables, and are primarily measured by ODN’s sensors, according to Van Vranken.
“It’s good for measuring temperature because it can provide information on whether the thermal tolerances of fish or other marine organisms are being stressed,” he said. Tyler Hennon, a research assistant professor at Alaska’s Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, said, “Measuring salinity and temperature together provides important clues about how water circulates.”
When an ODN sensor is taken out of the water with fishing gear (depending on the type of gear and data being measured, this process varies somewhat), it automatically transmits its measurements via Bluetooth to a receiver unit on the deck, and then the data to the ODN. It is processed there and delivered to clients ranging from the Bureau of Ship Research to Gannet Nets.
“It’s all autonomous,” said Jack Carroll, ODN’s director of operations and technical development, “there’s no effort from the crew, which is key because we don’t want to interfere with their operations. From that collection point, satellite internet via or mobile phone, the recipient sends the data to our endpoint.
“From there we clean the data and deliver it to the end user, depending on the project and what they want to do with it.”
Capt. Mark Phillips, whose fishing vessel Illusion records temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic Bight as part of ODN’s contract with the Office of Naval Research, says the sensors don’t get in the way of catching squid, and real-time temperature information can be useful. .
“It’s one more piece of information in the puzzle,” Phillips said.
The collaboration between ocean observers and commercial fishermen is the result of an aligned interest in data collection: it is much cheaper to attach sensors to fishing vessels than to use research vessels, and fishermen get better fishing observations.
“It allows us to get more spatial coverage at a lower cost,” said NOAA oceanographer James Manning, who started the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Lobster Trap Environmental Monitoring Program. “Where the research vessels that travel to the shelf go out at most once per season, they get a lot of good data across the shelf, but it’s not very often, so we stick to shorter timescales. Research ships can’t capture that.’
“The The king crab fell into the Bering Sea it’s a case,” Van Vranken said. “Nobody knows what’s going on up there. There are all these theories and finger pointing, a lot of people say it has to do with their temperature, but there’s very little data up there, so the industry is running blind. Science, management and industry need more robust data to understand what is happening, and also to have a sense of what might happen in a few years.
“That’s critical to making business decisions and knowing whether that’s a fluke or the new normal. Our integrated data collection is the foundation for building that kind of resilience and preparedness.”