Open Blue Uses the Latest Technology

Sonars and Underwater Cameras Aid Aquaculture Industry

The worldwide demand for seafood products is expected to more than double in the next 10 to 15 years. However, the amount of seafood being harvested from our oceans is expected to decline over that period due to overfishing.  One solution to the problem is aquaculture; the farming of aquatic species such as fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. Brian O’Hanlon, founder of Open Blue Sea Farms, is one of the pioneers in the field of open ocean fish farming.  The key concept behind this method is the moving of holding pens into deep water.  Having the submerged cages offshore increases the flow of sea water to the fish creating a cleaner and more healthy environment.  Problems can arise in traditional near-shore aquaculture due to higher concentrations of waste and contaminants which can breed disease. To avoid this, the fish in coastal farms are fed antibiotics, antifungal agents, and anti-parasitical agents. Offshore farms eliminate this process, reducing costs and providing the public with a better seafood product with fewer chemicals.

Top inset – Open Blue Sea Farms founder Brian O’Hanlon inside fish cage, Main photo – Operations manager Philip Nicolson with Fishers side scan sonar, Bottom inset – deploying the fish cage
With a background in marine biology and two generations of New York’s Fulton Street fishmongers in his blood, the 30 year O’Hanlon thinks he’s found a better way to harvest fish in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way.  He pioneered the use of advanced submersible cage designs for deep water, and was the first to stock mutton snapper and cobia in open ocean cages.  His nets are anchored to the ocean floor eight miles off the coast of Panama in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
With open ocean cages, the need for regular inspections is crucial.  If the netting is torn, or the cage breaks loose from its moorings, fish and gear could be lost.  With some of the holding pens extending more than 150 feet deep into the ocean, it is not practical to use divers because of their limited bottom time at these depths.  One technology being employed to aid the modern day aquafarmer is side scan sonar. High frequency sonar has the ability to produce detailed images of the cages, the mooring lines and anchors.  When Open Blue made the decision to acquire a sonar, they went to one of the experts in the field of underwater search equipment, JW Fishers Mfg.  Operations manager Philip Nicolson contacted Fishers factory to discuss the Open Blue’s requirements. Major considerations were; quality of the images, the durability and reliability of the system, and a quick delivery time. Once it was established that Fishers could meet all of their needs, Open Blue decided on the dual frequency SSS-100K/600K which would provide both long range scan capability as well as short range, high resolution pictures. Shortly after the sonar arrived on site Nicolson reported, “We’ve been very busy here with the side scan. It works great! We’re getting excellent images of the cages and all the support structures.”
Another piece of technology being employed in the aquaculture industry is the underwater video system.  Several fish farms in Norway are using inexpensive drop cameras like Fishers MC-1 mini camera to view the condition of nets and health of the fish.  In Canada, the Dept. of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) which is responsible for monitoring the industry, is using Fishers SeaOtter ROV, a remote controlled vehicle, to inspect the country’s aquafarms.  DFA’s Travis Mahoney reports, “We send the ROV down under the nets to determine the amount of waste present, and to check for dead or dying fish. It’s really a very useful tool. It can go deeper than our divers and stay there as long as we need it to.”
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