Using Drones to Survey Fish Stock: Our First Full West Coast Mission

In the Summer of 2018, five saildrones embark on the first autonomous full West Coast fisheries survey, in collaboration with Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Oceans Canada, and the NOAA research vessel Reuben Lasker.

It’s been an exciting week at Saildrone as we finish final preparations for a new mission and ship off a new fleet of Saildrones. These wind and solar-powered autonomous vehicles are about to start a first-of-its-kind mission — an integrated USV and ship survey of the North American West Coast, starting from Vancouver Island in Canada and traveling to San Diego on the Southern US border to augment NOAA’s efforts to quantify fish stock in the Pacific Ocean.

Saildrones just after launch in Neah Bay, WA

We’re excited to partner with NOAA Fisheries to embark on this full West Coast fisheries survey. In collaboration with Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Oceans Canada, and the NOAA research vessel Reuben Lasker, Saildrone will be deploying a total of five saildrones to gather valuable fish stock data on hake, sardine, and anchovy populations. The first two launched from Neah Bay, WA, on Tuesday to head up to Canadian waters. Three more will soon launch from our headquarters in Alameda, CA.

Saildrone team preparing to launch in Neah Bay, WA

Four of the saildrones will follow a track similar to the path of the Reuben Lasker to gather acoustic data on the hake population. The fifth Saildrone will augment the ship’s survey of coastal pelagic fish like anchovy and sardines by surveying nearer shore areas, examining vertical-migration and schooling patterns by studying the same area over multiple days, and surveying ahead of the ship to enable the ship to focus on areas with the most fish.

This integrated survey is an innovative approach to assessing fish stock. By working with multiple fisheries and working alongside one of NOAA’s research vessels, this mission will demonstrate the efficiency of using unmanned systems to augment limited research vessel time and provide necessary data for accurate assessments. In addition, weather data gathered by the saildrones will be used to improve forecast models.

As was noted in NOAA’s announcement of this mission

“This a real opportunity for us to test new and likely better ways of collecting data that informs some of our most important decisions on fisheries management.” — Larry Hufnagle, a NWFSC research scientist who will help direct the mission

This survey of the West Coast is just one of our summer missions. This year, Saildrone is deploying 11 total Saildrones on NOAA missions — the additional six vehicles will be deployed to the Arctic and the Tropical Pacific. To learn more, check out our recently completed mission to White Shark Cafe and follow along on this year’s mission to the Arctic here. For more updates on our West Coast mission, track our progress on NOAA’s Unmanned! Saildrone Expedition 2018 blog.


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