HiTech Fish Fighters

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 11:04am

Researchers develop system to weed out invasive fish species.

A high-tech fishing expedition in Utah Lake just might lead to solutions for fish population problems in waterways worldwide.

A Brigham Young University researcher is developing cutting-edge robotics technology to eliminate invasive fish.

"We thought about being able to capture invasive species and also to do monitoring for biologists," says Kirt Lillywhite, a BYU doctoral student.

The June sucker is an endangered fish in Utah Lake, but, Lillywhite and wildlife biologists hope to help the fish flourish.

They're measuring and tagging the June suckers, and stocking them in the lake.

They're also taking profile pictures of the fish in a tank.

Lillywhite is a student in the robot vision lab, working on object identification software.

He expects his new program to tell the difference between June suckers and its predators, carp and bass.

The more pictures they take, the more species the program will recognize.

"I don't know of anybody else who is doing something like this," he says.

If a camera in the water can do that, biologists can work to restore the proper balance of native fish, not only here, but anywhere invasive fish thrive.

"You've got invasive species in just about every lake and river in the United States," says Lillywhite. "Hopefully, we can help control some of those problems."

In open water, Lillywhite believes a camera submerged in a channel one foot wide could identify the fish with 99% accuracy.

Biologists could set up a channel like that on the Provo River.

Jackie Watson, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources June Sucker Biologist says it would be valuable to their work.

"As the suckers are moving up to spawn," she says, "this system will detect whether the fish is a sucker or another Utah Lake species."

They could then corral the suckers and carp into diversion ponds and eliminate the invasive fish.

"It's pretty neat technology they're developing today," Watson says.

The June sucker has been listed as an endangered species since 1986.

Biologists are raising them in hatcheries to restore the population in Utah Lake, which is their only natural habitat.

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