Hightower, J. E., K. J. Magowan, L. M. Brown, and D. A. Fox. 2013. Reliability of fish size estimates obtained from multibeam imaging sonar. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 4(1):86-96.
Multibeam imaging sonars have considerable potential for use in fisheries surveys because the video-like images are easy to interpret and contain information about fish size, shape, and swimming behavior, as well as characteristics of occupied habitats. We examined images obtained using a DIDSON multibeam sonar for Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus, striped bass Morone saxatilis, white perch M. americana, and channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus of known size (20 – 141 cm) to determine the reliability of length estimates. For ranges up to 11 m, percent measurement error (sonar estimate – total length)/total length X 100 varied by species but was not related to the fish’s range or aspect angle (orientation relative to the sonar beam). Least-square mean percent error was significantly different from 0.0 for Atlantic sturgeon (x ̅ =-8.34, SE=2.39) and white perch (x ̅ =14.48, SE=3.99) but not striped bass (x ̅= 3.71, SE=2.58) or channel catfish (x ̅=3.97, SE=5.16). Underestimating lengths of Atlantic sturgeon may be due to difficulty in detecting the snout or the longer dorsal lobe of the heterocercal tail. White perch was the smallest species tested and it had the largest percent measurement errors (both positive and negative) and the lowest percentage of images classified as good or acceptable. Automated length estimates using Echoview software varied with position in the view-field. Estimates tended to be low at more extreme azimuthal angles (fish’s angle off-axis within the view-field) but mean and maximum estimates were highly correlated with total length. Software estimates were also biased by fish images partially outside the view-field and when acoustic crosstalk occurred (when a fish perpendicular to the sonar and at relatively close range is detected in the side lobes of adjacent beams). These sources of bias are apparent when files are processed manually and can be filtered out when producing automated software estimates. Multibeam sonar estimates of fish size should be useful for research and management if these potential sources of bias and imprecision are addressed.