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Sailboat Drones Begin Fish Count in Lakes Huron-Michigan

The Great Lakes of North America comprise the world’s most significant freshwater environment. In addition, the Great Lakes support a $7 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry. Estimating fish stocks has proven difficult. So a pair of 23-foot sailing drones are now on the Great Lakes for a two-month exploration in Lakes, Michigan, and Huron to solve this issue. A business called Saildrone, based in California owns and operates the drone sailboats.

While there is plenty of walleye in Saginaw Bay, yellow perch stocks have been declining for years. Problems such as deteriorating habitat, climate change, and invasive mussels endanger the health of significant species such as lake trout, whitefish, walleye, and northern pike.

The two Saildrone Explorers were deployed from Macatawa on the west coast of Michigan and will sail north through Lake Michigan into Lake Huron during the 45-day fisheries mission – Courtesy Saildrone.

What Are Saildrones?

Courtesy Saildrone

The 23-foot self-navigating boats are powered by wind and solar energy and do not carry passengers. Instead, the Saildrone Explorer drones feature a 15-foot-tall wing sail and a weighted keel. They carry a cargo of science instruments, navigational and communications devices, and other equipment on their hulls.

Drones will be used to count fish. The information gathered will influence how much commercial fish fishermen can catch. The Great Lakes encourage commercial fishing, but the Michigan DNR needs to know where and how many fish are in the water before adopting standards.

First Freshwater Mission on the Great Lakes

Over seven years of operation, Saildrone’s fleet of crewless surface vehicles has proven its data collection capabilities from the Arctic to the Antarctic. These ocean drones have now reached a new nautical domain: the Great Lakes. Two Saildrone Explorers took off from Macatawa, Michigan, for a 45-day fishing mission on behalf of the US Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center (GSLC).

The data on the fish population will be collected using drone sailboats and a crewed boat operated by the US Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center. Data from all three ships will be compared to assist in the establishment of commercial fishing guidelines. In addition, researchers will investigate the dispersal of fish during the day and night and the effects of invasive mussels on the food chain.

The project will be reported from time to time on Saildrone’s Twitter feed.

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