Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Washington
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Washington Project

Advancing sustainable shellfish aquaculture through machine learning and automated data collection on fish communities

April 2021 - December 2023


Participating Agencies

  • NW Fisheries Science Center

Washington is the nation’s leading producer of farmed clams, oysters, and mussels, contributing approximately $184 million to the State economy, supporting over 1,900 jobs, and supplying fresh shellfish to consumers around the globe. With such high cultural, economic, and ecological value, there is substantial demand for growth within the shellfish aquaculture industry. A key impediment to the sustainable expansion of shellfish aquaculture is understanding the ecological implications of converting nearshore habitat to shellfish production. Understanding how shellfish aquaculture functions as nearshore habitat, relative to uncultivated areas, will help resource managers overcome this barrier and assess potential tradeoffs when planning the sustainable expansion of shellfish aquaculture. In collaboration with researchers from NOAA Fisheries and shellfish growers in Puget Sound, we have used underwater cameras to document nearshore fish (including outmigrating salmonids) and crabs in both shellfish aquaculture and uncultivated nearshore habitats. Subsets of these video data were processed manually to address questions of aquaculture habitat use. Optimization of video processing will enable use of this technology to answer key questions about how fish are utilizing these nearshore habitats. We anticipate that the optimization of video processing will permit us to expand this collaborative, industry-supported data stream to improve our understanding of the ecological function of shellfish aquaculture, as well as inform public perception on the marine ecology surrounding these farms.