Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Underwater robots to spy on WA fisheries

From Perth Now: Underwater robots to spy on WA fisheries
SMALL waterproof robots are being used by fisheries officials to spy on WA's rock lobsters to figure out why the prized seafood is struggling to survive.

The $115,000 pre-programmed POTBots will be attached to lobster pots between Shark bay and The Capes - Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin - so researchers can map the lobster’s underwater habitat and study their abundance and size compared to where they live.

Juvenile rock lobster numbers have plummeted to record lows and last month the Department of Fisheries modified the minimum catch size for recreational fishers from 77mm to 76mm.

Department of Fisheries senior scientist Simon de Lestang said the robot research was part of a suite of projects being deployed to figure out why numbers are so low for juvenile rock lobsters, called puerulus.

“The robotic cameras, attached to rock lobster pots and float lines, will open a new window and insight into underwater communities between Shark Bay and The Capes,” Dr de Lestang said.

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“They can collect GPS information while they (the POTBots) are aboard a vessel, they can detect when they’ve been deployed in water and automatically activate a camera to capture high definition vision of a lobster pot’s decent to the seabed.”

Dr de Lestang said the POTBots, short for Pictures Of The Bottom, will also record water temperature.

“This project will develop and implement a system capable of providing constantly updating, geo-referenced, environmental data, including information on the composition of benthic (sea floor) habitats.”

The researchers say that while the focus initially will be on the West Coast Rock Lobster Fishery, the technology may also be used to measure the impacts of climate change in other fisheries across WA.

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