Partnership developing lidar-based solution to maximize salmon hatchling survival

March 12, 2024

Spawning salmon
Salmon approach their spawning grounds near the headwaters of the Gulkana. UAF photo by Todd Paris 2023.

Thanks to a RISE-UP Seed Grant, researchers Michael Roddewig and Joseph Shaw, and community partner Tessa Frost are testing the efficacy of a drone-borne lidar system to predict plankton blooms conducive to salmon hatchling survival rates. If successful, the test will pave the way for the research team to access larger grants to develop the technology into a solution that hatcheries across Alaska and beyond may use to monitor plankton populations in real time.

Hatcheries currently mainly use historical data to predict plankton bloom. Unfortunately, with the acceleration of climate change the plankton no longer follows as predictable a pattern for its bloom. It now often blooms at different times and in different places from where it used to, making it particularly difficult to anticipate when to release newly hatched salmon. Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association is a private nonprofit hatchery that releases over 200 million juvenile salmon into the waters of southern Southeast Alaska annually, many of which will be used upon their return for subsistence by local communities and fished by commercial fisheries. SSRAA currently tries to predict plankton bloom using an algorithm and remote sensing equipment; results from these methods are not reliable.


Michael Roddewig
Photo courtesy of Lidar Research Laboratory.
Dr. Roddewig deploys a Sea-Bird ac-s spectral absorption and attenuation sensor.

Roddewig and Shaw are proposing a completely different technical approach to solving this problem by using a drone-borne laser-based imaging system. The system should be able to map the density of chlorophyll in inland and coastal water systems and to also account for the sediments and organic matter floating in coastal waters that have historically made them particularly difficult to monitor via air. 

By supporting this project, Center ICE’s RISE-UP program is hoping to foster solutions that strengthen Alaska’s fishing industry and bolster food security across the state. Once built, this solution could either be licensed to a larger industry partner or spun off as a self-standing company via Roddewig’s recently incorporated startup company.

RISE-UP is a partnership between Center ICE and the Office of Naval Research.  Learn more by clicking here!