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Freshwater Institute’s mortality monitoring device finalist for international tech challenge

March 27, 2023  By  Nestor Arellano

The MortCam was developed by the Freshwater Institute's Precision Aquaculture team, led by Rakesh Ranjan. (Photo: Freshwater Institute)

A real-time fish mortality detection system developed by The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute is one of five entries chosen from 47 proposals for this year’s NewTechAqua Award Challenge.

NewTechAqua, based in Belgium, aims to demonstrate that investment in sustainable aquaculture research and innovation creates new value chains, markets, growth and jobs in coastal, offshore and landlocked areas. The NewTechAqua Award Challenge advances solutions to challenges limiting economic, environmental and social benefits and impacts in aquaculture.

This was the first year Freshwater Institute (FI) applied to be considered as part of the award challenge and is the only winner from the United States. Other finalists for the tech challenge include:

  • Seaducer (France): a cutting-edge technology to produce outstanding oysters all year around by reducing tiresome tasks and optimising production costs.
  • Findit (Norway): a cloud-based platform for precision farming, specifically dedicated to fish farming. It uses cutting-edge technologies in data collection, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize fish farming operations.
  • Noah Genetics (Switzerland): Tools to prevent loss of genetic diversity and optimise animal AI, particularly in the aquatic ecosystem.
  • Bioceanor (France): predictive analytics for water quality.

Called the MortCam by FI’s Precision Aquaculture team, the device was developed using artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT). It is deployed in a fish tank to provide round-the-clock mortality monitoring. It can trigger an alarm when mortality thresholds are exceeded.

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) allow operators to create ideal water quality and optimal fish health and welfare conditions. However, fish mortality can still occur in such systems due to disruptions such as disease and irregular water quality events, according to the Freshwater Institute.

“That’s why our scientists proposed a mortality monitoring and alert tool to help farm managers make better-informed decisions on mortality management and maintaining good fish health and welfare,” said Brian Vinci, director of FI. The system was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).

The institute has an internationally recognized research team of top scientists, engineers, and technology experts that develop and validate solutions for the sustainable use of our nation’s water resources. It specializes in the technological development of RAS.

“MortCam consists of an imaging sensor integrated with an edge computing device customized for underwater applications,” said FI research scientist and Precision Aquaculture team leader, Rakesh Ranjan. “Images acquired are used to train and optimize a machine learning model for resource-constrained edge devices with limited computation capability to detect and count dead fish accumulated near the drain plate.”

The model is deployed on the MortCam to log the mortality data at a user-defined frequency. The system generates email and text alerts to notify operators of mortality events. “In this way, real-time mortality alerts may aid in proactively initiating procedures to prevent potential additional mortalities,” Ranjan said.

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