Google goes fishing?

3 Mar

The advanced research lab at Google’s parent company Alphabet, is taking aim at an unlikely new target for its technologies: fish. 

In an attempt to boost the use of fish farms, and reduce the world’s consumption of wild fish and meat, Alphabet’s X Development  has invented a system that will eventually recognise and monitor every individual fish in farms that hold hundreds of thousands. 

The three-year-old project, dubbed Tidal, is working with farms in Europe and Asia. It pairs underwater cameras with AI techniques such as computer vision to track species including salmon and yellowtail. 

The hope, according to Astro Teller, the director of X, is to reduce the world’s dependence on  land-based proteins, such as beef, and to free the oceans from damaging fishing practices. 

The oceans are falling apart thanks to us, thanks to humanity. So something has to change,” he said, discussing Tidal publicly for the first time. “No more [eating] fish isn’t really on the cards any time soon. What can we do to make it as good for the planet as possible?”

Grace Young, a research engineer on Tidal, added: “Developing technology for the underwater environment is really hard: it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s unforgiving, saltwater kills electronics, the pressure is crushing, the temperature can shift from above boiling to below freezing in a matter of minutes.” 

The team of around a dozen X staff had to build a fresh data set of fish to train its algorithms, initially by filming in a paddling pool at its Silicon Valley headquarters. Its stereo camera rig, which is lowered into a farming enclosure, is able to track fish through their development, using their particular shapes and movements. 

Some of these signals are happening in milliseconds,” said Neil Davé, who leads the Tidal project. “You’d be unable to see it with the human eye.”

Data and insights collected from Tidal’s system are sent to farmers to help them optimise feeding, reduce waste and maintain healthy fish, in the hopes of easing some environmentalists’ concerns about overuse of antibiotics. 

Really what we are hoping to do is provide these tools to farmers so that they can move their operations towards more sustainability,” said Mr Davé. “There may be an opportunity there to relieve some pressure on wild fishing if we made aquaculture very compelling from an operational and environmental perspective.” 

The sensors Tidal develops for fishing could also be used for more general ocean monitoring, where researchers often struggle to keep track of endangered species such as whales and  penguins in the wild. 

The research team formerly known as Google X is best known for its work on self-driving cars, internet balloons and delivery drones. 

Is total catch and release inevitable?

24 Feb

In 2019 Tweed rods released back into the river 86% of what they caught, but killed nearly 900 salmon (14% of 6382).

The Garda netting station, operating at the harbour mouth killed 336 salmon well below the 2018 figure of 485.

So with the closing of all drift nets and severe restrictions being placed on the remaining operating T&J nets, where all netted salmon have to be returned. Probably, for the very first time northern rod anglers in season 2019 killed more salmon than the nets.

In other words, the rods have now become by far one of the biggest predators of adult salmon in this region.

Some will argue, particularly nets men and the legislators that this does not sit well with the nets having given up their livelihoods, whilst their main voluble critics the rods carry on killing salmon as before.

This some what self centred approach raises the question as to why there are as yet no restrictions on killing salmon, particularly autumn fish whose numbers seem to have collapsed.

There are no easy answers here, individual views will be many and varied but it does suggest that many rod anglers have not yet got the message that “migratory fish stocks are in a perilous state” and killing them will only invite draconian controls that will satisfy no one.

The future of the sport is at risk and everyone connected with it needs to get on board and put conservation before self satisfaction otherwise in five years time game angling may no longer exist as we know it today.

Tweed Improvement

20 Feb

The 2019 season on the River Tweed proved to be a better year than the previous year 2018 with 6,814 salmon and 2,668 sea-trout caught.

The rods caught 6,382 of those salmon – an improvement on the 5,644 of the 2018 season, when near-drought conditions depressed catches from April through to September.

2,176 sea-trout were caught by the rods (817 in 2018) and the catches during the June to August period increased more than four-fold, with 1,572 being caught by anglers (373 in the hot summer of 2018).

The River Tweed Commissioners Chairman, Hugh Younger, noted that, “Whilst salmon and sea-trout catches in 2019 were a distinct improvement on the depressed catches of 2018, the apparent emergent trend of a larger run of both salmon and sea-trout in the summer months has not counter balanced the absence of an autumn run.

Editors note:-

The increase in migratory fish numbers could reflect the restricted T&J netting season.

Des and Eva!

16 Feb

At a well attended evening meeting on Wednesday 12th February at Willington Cricket Club members and guests of the Wear Angling Association met representatives of the Environment Agency to discuss the recent dramatic fall in the numbers of migratory fish returning to the rivers Tyne and Wear.

With the aid of several overhead graphical illustrations the EA demonstrated in the last few seasons the sharp decline in stocks, not only on local rivers but also throughout the country.

From the information presented the following appeared to be evident:-

  • The floods created by storms Eva and Desmond in 2015/16 had a serious impact on local rivers. Storm Desmond was the worst the Tyne experienced since 1956 and the third worst ever on the Wear.

  • With storm Desmond it was not necessarily the scale of the damaged but the actual timing being almost immediately after the spawning season. The EA expressed the view that although most redds were reasonably stable they were unable to withstand excessive and repeated washouts.

  • Surprisingly the number of smolts recorded in rivers in the following seasons 2018/19 seemed to be normal.

What was more worrying however was the apparent decline in the numbers of grilse and two winter salmon returning to not only local northern rivers but rivers throughout the country. Graphs for rivers such as the Towey, Itchen, Test and the welsh Dee were almost identical in their profile showing that whilst spring fish numbers were constant autumn fish numbers have been falling for a number of years. This is one of the factors behind the “Missing Smolts Programme” and highlights the need for further research both in marine and river environments to try and understand the decline.

In the following informal questions and answers part of the meeting, discussion centred around restocking and hatcheries. It is clear from the EA’s response that restocking is no longer considered a viable option by policy makers. The EA believe that restocked fish do not survive as well as naturally bred fish and have a tendency to weaken the natural strain.

In conclusion it seems that the EA believe that the situation will improve, perhaps in the short term. Restocking is no longer viable in expectation that stocks will naturally recover to pre 2015/16 levels, however storms Ciara and Dennis may influence that view. Only time will tell.