Aker BioMarine’s drone to make fishing ‘smarter’

Mariner USV, Aker BioMarine's new fishing drone, will optimize krill fishing in the Antarctic while helping to reduce CO2 footprint.
The Mariner USV, Aker BioMarine's drone to make fishing 'smarter', in its presentation in Trondheim, Norway. Photo: Aker BioMarine.
The Mariner USV, Aker BioMarine's drone to make fishing 'smarter', in its presentation in Trondheim, Norway. Photo: Aker BioMarine.

"It will simply help make fishing 'smarter'," said Matts Johansen, CEO of Aker BioMarine of the company's new drone. The Mariner USV is the first of its kind and will serve to optimize and boost the Norwegian company's krill fishery in the Antarctic. The data provided by the drone will help fishing vessels know where to go, thus reducing the number of days spent searching for krill. This time-saving in the search also translates into a reduction of CO2 emissions.

The Mariner USV, which stands for unscrewed surface vehicle, is a six-meter-long unmanned vehicle equipped with a range of sensor integrations and will be used both in the search for krill and to collect data for research and population mapping. Produced by Maritime Robotics, the drone was handed over to Aker BioMarine earlier this month and will be stationed in the Antarctic fishing field by the end of the year, coinciding with the start of the season.

Securing and stabilizing the availability of krill

"The USV will undoubtedly give a boost to the fishing industry. And with the help of big data, it will make it easier to secure and stabilize the availability of our raw material. It will simply help make fishing 'smarter'," stated Matts Johansen about the drone. "The USV will also assist our vessels to navigate more efficiently, which will reduce our CO2 footprint," added the Aker BioMarine CEO who also said they had worked for a long time to put such a solution in place.

The Mariner USV will be part of the Norwegian fishing company's data-driven search for krill in the Antarctic. When carrying out their work, the crew aboard the vessels receive information such as weather data or satellite images to help them determine where krill might be present. The new drone will be in charge of confirming this information. Now it will no longer be the boats but the USV that will go to the area to confirm if the krill is indeed there.

"If the USV confirms that there is in fact krill at the site, we will send fishing boats out. This allows us to save time searching for krill with the fishing boat and most importantly, it helps us avoid unnecessary emissions from large fishing boats," said Frank Grebstad, SVP Vessels Operations. In other words, as a consequence of the improvement in productivity provided by the new drone, an improvement in sustainability will also be achieved.

Collaboration with Maritime Robotics

This is the first time such a drone has been used in a Norwegian fishery. The Mariner USV was built specifically to withstand the extreme conditions of Antarctica, with harsh climates and long distances to travel. "In order to adapt this USV with Aker BioMarine's need, we had to develop several functions such as advanced alerts, defrosting, and situational understanding systems. It also has twice the operating time as a standard Mariner," said Eirik Moholt, product owner of the Mariner USV class in Maritime Robotics.

"All control systems, security systems, and maintenance routines are adapted for unmanned operations," he continued. "Aker BioMarine has a unique operational capability that comes forward in their investment and focus for a greener fishing industry by using USVs in their operations." Moholt has not only played a central role in the development and production of the USV at Maritime Robotics, but he has also been instrumental in training the crew who will use the vessel in the krill fishery.

In fact, as Aker BioMarine has confirmed to WeAreAquaculture, the drone will remain in Norway for a couple more months for the training of the crew that will operate it. "Then we plan to bring it to Antarctica with our own cargo vessel, Antarctic Provider, as she is coming to Norway in October to deliver cargo to customers. So, November will be the first month of actual use on fishing ground. That is right at the beginning of the next fishing season, and fits well with completion of shore-based maintenance stays for our fishing vessels," the company told us.

Eirik Moholt, product owner of the Mariner USV class in Maritime Robotics, and Frank Grebstad, SVP Vessels Operations in Aker BioMarine, during the drone presentation in Trondheim, Norway. Photo: Aker BioMarine.

A drone available for searching all year round

As mentioned, the Mariner USV will be used to confirm information that fishing vessels receive by other means. This new drone from Aker BioMarine is a continuation and enhancement of the work the company has carried out in recent years to optimize its fishing operations. In that line, among other things, it has tested the concept of using the fleet's sensors to reduce search days.

"We have used our supply ship, the Antarctic Provider, as a drone on a few occasions," said Frank Grebstad. "Like the USV, the Antarctic Provider is equipped with various sensor integrations that have been used to investigate krill occurrence in other, nearby fishing fields. This has both resulted in a more stable catch in addition to reducing search days. It has become a 'proof of concept,' for the company," the SVP Vessels Operations added.

The new USV will take this concept a step further, as Webjørn Barstad, EVP Offshore Supply Chain, explained. "By having a drone available for searching all year round, we will be able to benefit from this on an entirely different scale. During the past three years, we had an average of 60 search days. With the USV, we will have an overview of a considerably larger search area. This will give us the opportunity to make more strategic choices of fishing areas, which in turn is expected to reduce the number of search days," he said.

'Work in progress' for establishing a drone fleet

This is not the first time Aker BioMarine develops a proprietary system to make its krill fishery more efficient and sustainable. It already built up an 'EcoHarvesting' method to ensure they don't get any bycatch when fishing (CEO Matt Johansen explained how it works in his TalentView interview). Now, it is moving forward with its drone-based initiatives. And, although the company has not set dates in a development plan, it confirmed to WeAreAquaculture that "drone development is 'work in progress'," through several ideas.

This is the second drone after Aker BioMarine launched Sailbuoy in early 2020. Over the past few years, this unmanned, solar-powered sailing drone has collected detailed data on krill biomass in Antarctica. Now, Maritime Robotics' USV will give the company a significant scientific advantage during operations in the area.

"The ocean drone and the Sailbuoy are the first steps in the company's drone strategy. They complement each other. While the Sailbuoy is best suited for searches over large distances, often far from the krill fleet, the USV will be most efficient at short distances and for more detailed searches," Barstad explained.

About Aker BioMarine

Aker BioMarine is a leading biotech innovator and Antarctic krill-harvesting company developing krill-derived products for consumer health and wellness as well as animal nutrition. It has a strong position in its industry and is the world's leading supplier of krill from the pristine waters of Antarctica. Ensuring the well-being of the krill biomass and contributing towards a thriving Antarctic ecosystem are among its core priorities.

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