Optical Technology Boosts Fish Farmers

Fish Farms Swim in Success With New Automation Controls

People don't often think of fish as being farmed, but it is a huge industry. As with any type of farming, there are a lot of factors for success and a fish farmer has very little control over the environment. Managing profitability requires juggling issues like rising feed prices, energy costs, along with costs of maintaining equipment. So when farmers can use technology to control costs, it's a big deal.

One of Jameco's customers, In-Situ, Inc., based in Fort Collins, Colo., has played a big role in helping fish farmers innovate with devices like an automated dissolved oxygen (DO) monitoring and aeration control system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that DO monitoring is the most critical water quality parameter in warm water aquaculture. According to the USDA Catfish Genetics Research Annual Report (2005), "Over $50 million in potential profit are lost annually from the direct effects of low DO." In addition, "$100 million may be lost from poor growth and food conversion and a variety of environmental and pathogenic diseases directly related to the stresses of poor water quality."

Fish Farm
Fish Farm

How Does Automation Help?

For one, automation saves trips to the pond! "For our 44-pond (320-acre) fish farm, we drove two hours in the evening and two hours in the morning to turn aerators on and off," said Joey Lowery of Lowery Aqua Farms, Inc. in Amagon, Ark., "Over a 24-hour period we made at least seven trips (30 miles per trip) to manually check DO levels and control aerators. Since automating aeration control, we've reduced fuel consumption and wear-and-tear on farm vehicles."

In-Situ Inc. designs and manufactures scientific environmental and water-monitoring equipment. For fish farmers, In-Situ's innovation means increased yield and decreased costs. The Rugged Dissolved Oxygen Sensor (RDO) significantly improved the process of dissolved oxygen monitoring by creating a low maintenance product. "A pond monitoring system is only as good as the probe," said Rick Fernandez, Assistant Farm Manager at the Silver Streak Bass Company in Danevang, Texas.

"Of all the monitoring systems we've tried, the weak point has been the DO probe. Fifty percent of the time that we were spending on maintenance was dedicated to maintaining and calibrating membrane-style DO sensors. All 110 ponds on our farm have buoys that use the RDO PRO sensor. The RDO sensors do not flood, do not need membranes and filling solution, and do not require frequent calibration."

Unlike membrane-style DO sensors, the RDO PRO sensor significantly reduces maintenance and calibration requirements. The RDO sensor uses optical technology instead of an electrochemical method. Fish farmers can deploy a buoy with the RDO PRO sensor for an entire season, spanning months, without recalibration. Electrochemical sensors require recalibration and maintenance every two weeks, at a minimum.

Time is another factor working against fish farmers. If farmers are manually checking DO levels in each pond, they must move quickly in case a pond needs emergency aeration. Most handheld DO probes require warm-up time and take at least 30 seconds to equilibrate. By using a wireless buoy with an RDO PRO sensor, no warm-up time is required. The RDO sensor is always ready to check DO levels at user-specified time intervals. By automating both DO monitoring and aeration control, farmers can reduce DO-checking rounds and supplemental aeration.

Like Jameco, In-Situ Inc. was founded in the 1970s and fulfilled a dream of its founder, Chester McKee. Since then, both In-Situ and Jameco have become known for innovation, quality and customer service.

Learn more aboutIn-Situ, Inc. at www.in-situ.com.

If you have an electronics story you'd like to share, please send it to [email protected].