Aquaculture North America

Virginia scientists testing AI technology to track brook trout health

October 3, 2023
By ANA staff


Researchers are using artificial intelligence to identify individual fish, with the goal of building population models that track trout health and habitat changes.

The research—with a focus on brook trout—is a collaboration between data scientists at the University of Virginia and the U.S. Geological Survey. The aim is to create a more efficient and accurate way to track trout by using “fish-ial recognition” software.


Previously, scientists had to track fish using markers or injections to identify individual fish, but some of these methods did not work well for small fish. “The new frontier is individual recognition using AI technology,” said Nathaniel Hitt, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in a University of Virginia article.

The project originated during work at Shenandoah National Park by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Ecological Science Center in West Virginia. “We were using video sampling in stream pools to estimate the abundance of brook trout. We would take underwater video and have human observers count fish,” said Hitt.

So they thought of using AI and applications like facial recognition software to count fish and are using brook trout since the species have unique identifying markings.

Researchers are classifying fish in both controlled and natural environments in West Virginia and Massachusetts, building a unique database that could potentially save taxpayers money and advance protective measures for trout and streams.

They hope to involve anglers in the project by creating an interactive application where they can upload images of fish and participate in protecting the health of brook trout and preserving their natural environment.

“Using images, we can create individual fish ID and could monitor population trajectories,” said Hitt, “but this also changes the relationship between anglers and these natural resources. It fosters a deeper sense of stewardship and connection to the streams and rivers.”

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