"UFOs" in the North Sea: High-tech for a modern & innovative monitoring of fish and other marine organisms
Based on an idea and concept of Joachim Gröger of the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries (TI-SF, Hamburg), research on an innovative, intelligent Underwater Fish Observatory (UFO) for the North Sea has been initiated and subsequently undertaken as part of an innovation support project. The UFO idea arose when he was working as a Professor of Fisheries Oceanography at the University of Massachusetts (USA), where he also began to practically explore the feasibilities. An UFO pre-prototype is currently being developed under his guidance in Kiel, in cooperation with a consortium of two other project partners from industry and research. UFO is designed not only to automatically detect fish stocks in an intelligent and non-invasive manner, but at the same time also to extensively and continuously monitor the ambient environmental conditions, being aimed at early-detecting environmental changes and sustainably managing fish stocks as well as entire marine ecosystems. In the first stage, UFO is conceptualized as a stationary system. It is innovative in the sense that for the first time highly sensitive opto-acoustical system components are combined, calibrated and synchronized with other sensors, collectively providing a continuous and synoptical stream of blended acoustico-stereo-optical fish images plus synchronically taken environmental information. When contrasting this with the conventional situation, unlike research vessels the integrated UFO approach is similar to generating highly resolved video sequences instead of only snapshots. Hence, the UFO data stream allows quantitative statements, for instance, about the density (abundance, biomass) of fish populations (indexed by species and size in terms of numbers and/or weight) as well as of the state of ecosystems which is completely in line with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive of the EU. Continuously monitoring UFO arrays may be installed, for instance, in sensitive key areas such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – e.g. the German Wadden Sea – or wind parks and other areas where research vessels have no access to. In a later stage, also a mobile version in terms of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) being based on the same concept (again an idea of Gröger) is to be developed to complement the static systems in areas where fishing is not prohibited and thus collisions of fishing gear with a static UFO are likely. It should be noted that – because of its open design – UFO does not only allow to detect fish, but may be adapted, to also or selectively detect other organisms such as whales, seals, squid, jelly fish, allowing to continuously monitor all of these species. In cases where individual identification is essential and possible a real micro-census based on meristic and/or morphometric properties may be performed using intelligent algorithms of pattern recognition.