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Automated Mobile Fish Pen for Sustainable Aquaculture

Macy W. Summers, Vice President of Advanced Programs for Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions-Defense talks to Kal Kaur at AZoRobotics about the Application of an Automated Fish Pen for Sustainable Aquaculture.

Can you briefly discuss the main driver behind the development of the automated mobile fish pen?

There was a need to reduce expensive and potentially dangerous human labor in open ocean conditions. By achieving this, open ocean aquaculture can be a sustainable and scalable source of seafood.

Inland and shore-based farms present a range of environmental concerns for the quality of fresh seafood. Can you discuss the main concerns with inland farms and how this compares to a mobile automated system that would potentially alleviate the threat of overfishing in the world’s oceanic habitat?

A Mobile Fish Pen has been likened by some to “free range” animals. From a farming perspective it would be like moving a corn field to a new location everyday thereby introducing continuous fallowing. Growing fish in the open ocean responsibly introduces a potentially sustainable source of seafood that could be used to address rising demand and diminishing capture quotas that are meant to protect wild stocks.

How does this automated fish pen work?

An operator on shore sends commands via a laptop. The commands are transmitted to the pen drifting offshore using a Lockheed Martin communications system.  On the pen (or attached barge) the commands result in tasks (like fish feeding) being executed and status (even video) being returned to the operator on shore.

What are the key features to this automated system?

Initially we have focused on feeding, cleaning, and mortality removal.

Mobile Fish Pen

Mobile Fish Pen - Aquapod. Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

This automated fish pen integrates with satellite communications. Is there a back-up system built into this automated underwater machine in the event of communication failure during its operation?

On the Velella prototype, the back-up was to have humans on an attached barge. We, at Lockheed Martin, are currently implementing an automated back-up system for the next generation Velella.

What type of data is gathered to measure the impact on water quality and the seafloor and how this is affecting fish health and growth?

There are many metrics, studies, approval authorities. Our partners at Kampachi farms could elaborate further, but before projects can even begin environmental impact assessments have to be reviewed by governmental authorities.

What advantages does this system have over current fish farming methods?

The fish grow faster, with less food, and less environmental impact. Faster and less food is great for the economics. The technology also allows countries with relatively high labor rates like the US have a strategy for competing with producers in regions where labor is very inexpensive.

What design and development challenges were you faced with during this project?

As with any complex system there are many challenges that had to be overcome. Lockheed Martin just finished redesigning the communications system to provide increased bandwidth.

As one of the top 25 inventions of 2012 as recognized by the TIME magazine, this automated fish pen really is a revolutionary angle to aquaculture. Can you discuss the impact and benefits this system will have on the demand for a more sustainable and environmentally sound approach to farming?  

The demand for more sustainable seafood is unavoidable because ocean stocks are being decimated and simply cannot meet the need. The mobile fish pen offers a way to sustainably produce large volumes of high quality seafood without land or fresh water. As our natural resources of fish, land, and water diminish solutions like this will be required to sustain the world’s food supply.

How does your new automated system differentiate between farmed and wild stock from the ocean and how will this impact the issue of overfishing?

The fish that rose using this approach are contained inside of the cage for the grow-out period. Wild fish are kept outside of the cage. By offering a sustainable product allows for the market replacement of unsustainable product or fulfilment of unmet demand.

What type of feed has been used to increase the quality of seafood?

Many types have been tested; the current soy blend combines sustainability with high quality fish.

How does this automated fishing system affect labour costs and the safety of ocean fish farming?

Much less labor is required and many potentially dangerous human tasks can be eliminated. The remaining labor requires more expertise and thus generally commands higher wages.

How do you plan on developing this model and combining this technology with sustainable feeds to grow the industry?

Lockheed Martin plans to work in partnership with sustainable feed makers.

On estimate, how much high-quality seafood could be generated using this method of ocean fish farming and how does this compare to current figures on fish farming?

We are looking at the possibility of single cages which could produce as much seafood as entire small near-shore farms today. The potential for open ocean aquaculture is tremendous. The oceans used to hold huge populations of fish and Lockheed Martin along with its partners on this project hope that they will again someday.

The Velella Mariculture Research Project

This video discusses the Velella Mariculture Research Project - bringing together revolutionary technology by using an automated fish pen with sustainable feeds in ocean waters off the Island of Hawaii. Run time - 6:19 min.

About Macy Summers

Macy W. Summers is Lockheed Martin’s IS&GS - Defense Chief Technology Officer, Vice President of Advanced Programs.  In this role he’s responsible for advanced technology research & development leadership, acquisitions, venture investments and innovation incubation.  Previously he led business development in LM’s Commercial, Federal and International wireless business.  

Macy SummersPrior to Lockheed Martin, Mr. Summers held executive-level positions at Pegasus Communications Corp., EMS Technologies, STM Wireless and co-founded a multimedia broadband networking firm, Telecom International.  From 1981 – 1995 he was employed at Scientific-Atlanta where he led telecommunications strategy as well as assignments in engineering, program management, sales and marketing.  

Summers’ Lockheed Martin development teams were honored in 2011 with an Edison Best New Product Award, the Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology (PACT) IT Innovator of the Year and a Time Magazine Top 50 Innovation for 2012.  He currently serves on two Presidential Advisory Subcommittees in National Security Telecommunications.


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