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Health Of Pacific Fish Stocks Measured With Sailboat Drones

Two SailDrones on the dock waiting to deploy in this undated photo.

Credit: NOAA

Above: Two SailDrones on the dock waiting to deploy in this undated photo.

Two drone sailboats are starting a journey down the Pacific coast in an effort to help scientists understand how healthy the region's fishing stocks are.

The autonomous craft left Washington state this week. The boats could make it easier and less expensive to find out the health of the commercial fish living along the coast.

The craft are 15 feet long, have a sail that juts out about eight feet above the water line and carry acoustic instruments designed to find fish.

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center's Toby Garfield said sail drones could do mapping work that's currently done by large research vessels.

"What we're trying to do is use it in the shallower environment, the nearshore where you can actually measure the water column down to the bottom. And see if it's got sufficient detail to use that to help with the fish estimates," Garfield said.

This is the first time researchers have used the craft to take acoustic measurements along the shore.

"It has the same acoustic, a low power implementation of the same acoustics. If we can use that to really get a good estimate of the fish biomass, the ship itself can do less of that, as we call it, mowing the lawn, it can do less of just driving the tract to pick up the acoustic signal and the ship can concentrate more on collecting the samples," Garfield said.

The craft are controlled remotely and can stay in the water on a mission for months.

The two drones bound for San Diego sail from Alameda later this year.

Federal researchers in San Diego are using drones to help measure the health of fishing stocks off the Pacific coast.

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