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Aquaculture 101: Aquaculture and ROVs

Rachel Doornekamp   |   January 29, 2021

WHAT IS AQUACULTURE?

Learn more about the importance of the aquaculture industry and how Deep Trekker is contributing to its success with ROV technology.

Aquaculture refers to the cultivation of aquatic organisms in controlled aquatic environments for any commercial, recreational or public purpose. The breeding, rearing and harvesting of plants and animals takes place in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, the ocean and man-made systems on land.

Aquaculture serves many purposes, including:

  • Food production for human consumption;
  • Rebuilding of populations of threatened and endangered species;
  • Habitat restoration;
  • Wild stock enhancement
  • It is one of the fastest growing forms of food production in the world
  • Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing forms of food production in the world. Because harvest from many wild fisheries has peaked globally, aquaculture is widely recognized as an effective way to meet the seafood demands of a growing population.

Aquaculture produces almost half of the seafood consumed by humans globally, a trend that continues to increase. Using aquaculture techniques, researchers and the aquaculture industry are farming all types of freshwater and marine species of fish and shellfish, with the help of remotely operated vehicles for inspection purposes.

Aquaculture Norway

What Are ROVs

Remotely operated vehicles or ROVs are unmanned, highly maneuverable underwater vehicles used for a variety of underwater tasks while being operated by a pilot topside or on the shore. These camera equipped vehicles allow users to get eyes underwater safely and efficiently.

Intelligent and easy to use, ROVs are durable and portable solutions for submerged inspections. With an ROV, operators can get eyes underwater quickly and easily to inspect their farm. Offering a safe, convenient and economical alternative to divers, ROVs are changing how fisheries are maintaining their pens.

Deep Trekker offers two innovative ROVs, the DTG3 and the REVOLUTION. Both ROVs are able to be equipped with aquaculture specific tools to aid in inspection, observation and repair tasks.

How are ROVs Used in Aquaculture

With the total annual aquaculture production contributing to 45% of the world’s aquatic product consumption, the importance of aquaculture on the global food market cannot be overstated. As with any food resource, sustainability and animal welfare is a top priority. Keeping infrastructure and equipment in proper operational condition and ensuring compliance with health and welfare standards is of paramount importance to Deep Trekker.

ROVs are used in aquaculture in a variety of ways to help users complete tasks around the farm in a safe and efficient manner.

NET MONITORING

With an ROV, operators can easily make net inspections a part of their daily routine. Consistent net inspections allow pilots to monitor the regular wear and tear on lines, nets and mooring, as well as holes from potential pest incursions. By conducting regular inspections, fish farmers can reduce the risk of escapes.

Kana Upton, Fish Farm Biologist/Manager at Aqua-Cage Fisheries shared, “We typically use Deep Trekker ROVs to check out net pens for holes, so we’re checking the physical net structure. This is part of our due diligence and maintenance program but it’s also a requirement for the certification that we hold. We also monitor anchors and make sure that everything is still in check.”

By consistently checking nets, farms are able to ensure that everything is safe and in place. Furthermore, regular inspection means that minor wear and tear is caught early, before a catastrophe such as an escape can take place.

In addition to the inspection of nets, Deep Trekker ROVs provide users with a reliable way to temporarily mend holes until a more permanent repair can be made. Cristian Aguilera of Deep Trekker SpA built on this when he explained, “predators like sea lions cut the nets and our net patching tool allows for quick emergency repairs.”

By staying on top of net, anchors and mooring line integrity, as well as quickly repairing holes, Deep Trekker ROVs allow farms to maximize their budgets.

Aquaculture net

REDUCED DIVER USE

ROVs provide a safe alternative to divers, allowing farm operators to optimize their spending. The use of an ROV in lieu of divers provides farms with benefits in terms of finances, time and most importantly human safety. “It’s a safety concern having a diver in the water no matter what they’re doing,” said Upton. It is important to note that the use of ROVs “is not to get rid of the divers, but protect them,” as stated by Aguilera.

By using an ROV, teams are able to save significant amounts of time and money while keeping divers safe.

Chilean based Aguilera noted that farms in his area “changed from divers to ROVs about 6 years ago.” Aguilera went on to say that, “most of the things that are done on a fish farm today, whether that be inspections or mort retrieving, are done together with the ROVs.”

Upton echoed this sentiment, “there hasn’t been a diver in the water for about 15 years now. Having a scuba diver check these nets presents an enormous amount of challenges. Bottom time is extremely limited at these depths, meaning that you can’t check as many nets in a day. Our regulations have also made it difficult to scuba dive at all without a special license or extensive training and support teams.”

The quick deployment and easy portability of Deep Trekker ROVs allow farms to use a submersible vehicle for smaller tasks that would otherwise require a dive team to complete. Sverre Føyen, site manager for Erko Seafood, noted that the easy and convenient deployment of the ROV allowed him and his team to save money. “Before we bought the ROV we had to contact divers for every little thing, from losing an item in one of the cages or just a quick check,” said Sverre. “I think that I have saved the price of buying the unit a few times since now I can do all the small things that I before needed divers to fix or check.”

Gerry Burry, Site Manager at MOWI’s Quatsino operating area in British Columbia agreed with Føyen in terms of the convenience of an ROV for getting eyes underwater quickly and safely.

“You can see your fish whenever you want to,” says Burry. “Plus, every time we can prevent a scuba diver from entering the water, we increase safety and save money, it doesn’t take long for one single unit to pay for itself.”

FEED MONITORING

Farms can make use of their ROV to monitor the feeding of their stock and ensure that they are employing the most efficient feeding practices. Upton detailed feed monitoring with the use of robotics. “Feed is by far the most expensive component at the fish farm,” highlighted Upton. Using robotic solutions, Aqua-Cage Fisheries can monitor the feed intake of their stock.

“We’ve been working with Deep Trekker to develop a system to observe fish feeding in excessively warm temperatures,” explained Upton. “What happens when our water temperature reaches about 24 or 25 Celcius, which is surprisingly warm for our area, the larger fish who are getting the most feed don’t like to come up to that surface water, where it really piles up and heats up in that top metre or two. Instead they like to hang out at a cooler temperature down deep. This could be 20, 30 feet deep.”

In more typical conditions, personnel are able to observe and monitor feeding behaviours from the feed boat. However in these warmer conditions the fish don’t come up to the surface, making observation from the feed boat impossible. “The problem is the fish are hanging out at depth and we can’t observe their feeding from the surface,” continued Upton. Using the DTPod, Upton and her team can conveniently and accurately observe underwater feeding behaviours. “It allows us to better gauge the feed that we’ve rationed for the cages so that we are not underfeeding and allows us to get the fish up to size efficiently,” explained Upton.

DTG3 Screen

SAMPLING

In addition to observing feeding, Deep Trekker ROVs can be used to minimize the need for sampling and handling, thereby reducing stress. Sampling is time consuming and raises cortisol levels in fish. At certain times of the year when oxygen levels are lower and water temperatures are higher, farms try to minimize handling to prevent loss. A DTG3 or REVOLUTION ROV make for useful alternatives to help assess pen conditions while not meaningfully affecting cortisol levels.

By using an ROV or submersible camera to observe key behavioural indicators, technicians can make educated judgments about the current state of health and welfare in their pens. Common diseases among fish are the source of billions of dollars in loss annually. Early identification will go a long way in preventing the spread of costly diseases. ISA, for example, can cause major economic losses to infected farms. The fish develop pale gills, and may swim close to the water surface, gulping for air. Symptoms of ISA and other ailments can be caught early by monitoring fish appearance and behaviour with Deep Trekker’s ROVs or DTPods. With early detection, health challenges can be identified before they impact your bottom line.

A Deep Trekker ROV can also be used to monitor environmental conditions, which have an immediate effect on overall environmental health. Regular monitoring and sampling is important to establish baselines and recognize changes quickly. However, sampling is not only time consuming but it can also raise cortisol levels in fish.

Using a Deep Trekker ROV provides a safe and efficient alternative for sampling, with built in temperature, depth and oxygen sensors available. Our Aquatroll sonde add-on can simultaneously carry up to four environmental sensors, like chlorophyll or phosphorus for additional monitoring.

Deep Trekker Vehicles

Deep Trekker has two underwater ROV models; the DTG3 and the REVOLUTION. Deep Trekker ROVs are designed for maximum portability and maneuverability. Its compact size and onboard battery power allows access to remote locations.

The DTG3 is an intelligent and advanced vehicle. The mini observation-class vehicle is portable and easy to use, allowing operators to quickly deploy and inspect underwater environments. Mission-ready with serious payload capabilities and advanced stabilization, the REVOLUTION is a completely re-imagined ROV. The patented pending revolving head allows operators to rotate the camera, manipulators and sonar all while station holding in moving water.Using an ROV to conduct pre-dive inspections can increase safety and efficiency, ultimately saving time and money.

Deep Trekker vehicles are powered by long-lasting on-board lithium-ion batteries. The lack of topside power not only makes the ROVs easily portable, it reduces your risk of contaminating pens or starting fires with fuel spills.

By putting the batteries inside the ROV and controller, there is no power going down the tether. This allows us to reduce the diameter of the tether, avoiding potential dragging. Furthermore, with the lithium ion batteries, there is no harm in giving your ROV a quick charge before your dive as you do not need to drain the batteries fully before recharging completely.

Our DTG3 models work up to 8 hours on a 1.5 hour battery charge. For a typical inspection, you will likely get a full day’s work from one battery charge. The REVOLUTION also operates up to 8 hours on a 1.5 hour charge. Because you don’t need generators or other external power sources, Deep Trekker’s ROVs are not only convenient, they reduce the risk of spilling fuel around the farm and thereby contaminating pens or raising the risk of fires.

Deep Trekker ROVs are light and highly portable, making them safe for staff to transport and handle. Both the DTG3 and the REVOLUTION can be easily handled on their own without significant risk of musculoskeletal injury. This is very important because a healthy, happy farm team means husbandry doesn’t suffer. In addition to working as checked luggage for transporting the ROV via plane, the wheeled Pelican case is perfect for easy transport both around the farm and between farms. Easily transportable while being lightweight and durable, ROVs can be safely and securely moved from location to location. This convenient and safe transport keeps employees safe and at ease.

DTG3 on Farm

ROV Customization

Deep Trekker ROVs can be easily customized to help users make the most of their vehicle.

DTG3 PRECISION THRUSTER

The Precision Thruster really is a game changer for the DTG3. It allows the ROV to hold its depth, move vertically without having to pitch the ROV, and make minor adjustments to depth during inspections and retrievals.

UNDERWATER SENSORS

Both the DTG3 and Revolution can be equipped with heading, depth, temperature and oxygen sensors, which make them a powerful tool for understanding the environment in which your fish live. We’ve also partnered with Aquatroll to integrate their multiparameter sonde onto either of the DTG3 or Revolution. The sonde can simultaneously carry up to four environmental sensors, like chlorophyll or phosphorus. It’s conceivable that one of our ROVs could be used to detect algal blooms before they reach your farm, or potentially in RAS to detect dangerously high levels of phosphorus.

NET REPAIR PATCH

Deep Trekker’s Net Repair Patch allows operators to place a temporary patch over holes in nets, allowing you to keep your fish in and keep predators out. If you spot a hole and you can’t get a diver in to patch it right away, Deep Trekker’s new Net Repair Patch tool can be mounted right on the front of the DTG3 and can cover or pull holes shut.

MORT PUSHER

Deep Trekker’s mort pusher helps operators quickly and effectively push morts into the uplift system or bring them directly to the surface for post-mortem examinations.

CUTTER TOOL

The cutter tool adds even more capability to your ROV. The rotating cutter head can be used to cut rope, line or netting up to 12mm in diameter.

SAMPLERS

The Water Sampler and Sediment Sampler are inexpensive add-ons that make collecting government-mandated benthic samples far easier and more accurate.

UNDERWATER GPS

We’ve partnered with Seatrac to bring a USBL (ultra short baseline) technology to our ROVs. USBL allows you to track the GPS location of your ROV on a Google Map that pops up on the controller’s screen. This is vital technology for doing site surveys, benthic inspections, and checking the location of moorings before and after large storms and surges.

REV Laser

Learn more about Deep Trekker ROVs in the aquaculture industry by checking out our blog. We recommend 5 Ways ROVs Can Help Mitigate Concerns Regarding Fish Health and The Cost Benefits of Using an ROV in Aquaculture. As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of industry experts.

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