Surveying scallop populations with artificial intelligence

Scallops are a shellfish delicacy precious to many New Zealanders. They are an important kaimoana species for tangata whenua and have long been a sought-after species for commercial and recreational fishers. The impacts of scallop dredging on the Aotearoa New Zealand marine ecosystem in areas like the Hauraki Gulf is a major concern. To ensure the fishing surveys have the least impact possible, NIWA has been working with the University of Canterbury and Fisheries New Zealand to develop a non-invasive method of counting scallop populations. The technology allows data to be collected without disturbing the seafloor or the animals living on it. This is all made possible with the use of underwater drones and very clever computer learning.

Currently still under development, the technique involves using artificial intelligence to remove any need to use dredging in the future; divers validate how many scallops are on the seabed, whilst the computer looks at imagery of the same sites.

“The collection and analysis of imagery, using an underwater remotely operated vehicle, gives us the same level of precision as our traditional surveys”, says NIWA fisheries scientist James Williams.

Developing this technology allows researchers to gather data over larger areas and improve their understanding of scallop populations, associated marine life and supporting habitats without impacting on the marine environment.