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Mariner USV, Aker BioMarine’s new fishing drone will optimize fishing in Antarctica

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Mariner USV, a first of its kind drone, will optimize krill fishing and contribute to reducing emissions using big data. Aker BioMarine is ready to deploy it in Antarctica – contributing to a boost in krill fishing.


The Mariner USV, which stands for unmanned surface vehicle, was produced by Maritime Robotics, a company revolutionizing the ocean space with innovative uncrewed solutions. It was handed over to Aker BioMarine earlier this month.

The six-meter-long, unmanned vehicle is equipped with a range of sensor integrations and will be used both in the search for krill, and to gather data for research and population mapping. By the end of the year, the drone will be stationed at the fishing field in Antarctica.

“This is a big day for us as we have worked for a long time to put such a solution in place. 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’. The USV will also assist our vessels to navigate more efficiently, which will reduce our CO2 footprint,” says Matts Johansen, CEO of Aker BioMarine, one of Norway's largest fishing companies.

“We chose Maritime Robotics because of their technical competence and experience, and their USV provides a reliable and flexible platform,” he continues.

First of its kind
This is the first time this type of USV has been used in a Norwegian fishery. it was built to withstand the extreme conditions in Antarctica, with both 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”, says Eirik Moholt, product owner of the Mariner USV class in Maritime Robotics.

Moholt has played a central role in the development and production of the USV as well as training the crew that will utilize the vessel in krill fishing.

“All control systems, security systems, and maintenance routines are adapted for unmanned operations. 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,” he continues.

Big data will make fishing more accurate
The new drone will be part of the company's data-driven search for krill. Simply explained, information such as weather data and satellite images provide the crew aboard the fishing boats with indications of where there might be krill. Based on this, the USV is sent out to confirm that there is krill at the site.

“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,” says Frank Grebstad, SVP Vessels Operations.
The drone is a continuation of the work the company has put in over the last few years to optimize its fishing operations. Among other things, Aker BioMarine has slowly 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. 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,” adds Grebstad.

“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,” says Webjørn Barstad, EVP Offshore Supply Chain.


Establishing a drone fleet
Early in 2020, Aker BioMarine launched Sailbuoy, an unmanned, solar-powered sail drone. And during the past few years, the Sailbuoy has gathered detailed data on the krill biomass in Antarctica. Now, Aker BioMarine is advancing its drone-based initiatives, and the USV from Maritime Robotics will give Aker BioMarine a significant scientific advantage during operations in Antarctica.

“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,” says Barstad.