Commercial Fishing Vessels as Platforms for Coastal Ocean Research, Monitoring, and Management

Lead Investigator: Ann Bucklin
New Hampshire Sea Grant Program
University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824
phone: (603) 862-0122 fax: (603) 862-0243 email:

Co-investigators: Peter H. Wiebe (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Chrys Chryssostomidis (MIT Sea Grant Program), W. Gary Williams (Clearwater Instrumentation, Inc.), and Craig A. Pendleton (Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance)

Funded by the Office of Naval Research (Grant No. N00014-98-1-0781)
under the auspices of the National Ocean Partnership Program
Website Address

Project Objectives

The "FleetLink" project goal is to develop partnerships among commercial fishermen, researchers, educators, and coastal managers for the collection, real-time telemetry, analysis, assimilation, distribution, and use of environmental and fisheries data from coastal regions off the northeastern US. Specific objectives of the partnership are:

* to design and produce an integrated sensor system (including navigational, hydrographic, and meteorological components) for use onboard commercial fishing vessels; assemble, integrate, and test prototype versions of the system on a small number of vessels; establish land-based centers for collection, analysis and assimilation of data.

* to develop strategies for incorporation of the environmental and fisheries data into the missions of the targeted end users, including: NMFS assessments, NOAA and Navy coastal modeling and prediction efforts, marketing strategies for commercial products, and oceanographic research programs.

Activities and accomplishments to date

The FleetLink partnership has become an acknowledged player in the tangled world of cooperative (i.e., commercial fishermen and researchers) research programs in the Northeast US. The FleetLink concept has attracted interest from the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Naval Oceanography Office, among others. FleetLink data are also being used in K-12 classrooms: each vessel is partnered with a school through the related Adopt-a-Boat project (see We have built a working relationship within this nexus of organizations and stakeholder groups, from which we expect to identify partners, funding sources, and customers for our data.

Four prototype FleetLink sensor systems have been produced; systems were installed on three commercial fishing vessels: F/V Susan & Caitlyn (Portland, ME), F/V Glenna & Jacob (Fairhaven, MA), and F/V Adventurer (Portland, ME). Operation of the prototype FleetLink systems has been demonstrated since January, 2001 during usual fishing operations of all three vessels. FleetLink meteorological and oceanographic data have been collected during fishing trips in the Gulf of Maine and over Georges Bank and telemetered to WHOI, where the data are received and served by the JGOFS Data Information software. Confidential email exchanges are also possible to and from the vessel. A project renewal for 2002 has allowed continuous data collection and telemetry for an extended period. All three vessels are currently transmitting hourly data during all fishing trips, and are scheduled to continue operation to July, 2002. The data are posted to the project website,, without geographic coordinates (at the request of the fishermen). Geo-referenced data are available by request.

In order to re-examine an ocean phenomenon of interest and to demonstrate the usefulness of fishing vessels as research platforms, a survey of the tidal mixing front on the southern flank of Georges Bank was carried out during July, 2001 by the F/V Glenna & Jacob. Underway sea surface temperature (SST) was measured and vertical temperature profiles were taken at 5 km intervals, using the gear-based NetSensor / DeckMate temperature and pressure sensor. The FleetLink sensor system accurately captured the tidal mixing front, clearly resolving the thermocline (centered at 20 m depth) and characterizing the tidal mixing front, where stratification broke down in shallower waters over the Bank (see detailed description of the experimental design and oceanographic results at

Anticipated results and impacts

The FleetLink partnership provides a mechanism for bringing together those involved in the fishing industry, the oceanographic community, and the federal agencies responsible for resource assessment and management. FleetLink outreach efforts have tapped a genuine interest and need in the fishing community for better ocean and meterological data, for near-real-time and open access to fisheries catch data, for confidential communication between vessels at sea and their home ports. Successful completion will entail broad cooperation among coastal resource managers in programs and agencies across the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Transportation.

This effort will result in better, largely automatic, and near real-time method of reporting offshore meteorological and sea conditions for use by a wide variety of communities, and for reporting commercial fish catch records to local cooperatives. Full implementation of the FleetLink concept will result in a low-cost, high-resolution, synoptic and strategic ocean observing system, based on autonomous collection and telemetry of data from commercial fishing vessels.

The FleetLink partnership is working toward commercial production of the FleetLink self-contained, autonomous, modular, and customizable sensor system for oceanographic and meteorological data collection. FleetLink systems are being designed so that they will be appropriate for installation and use on any vessel - regardless of size, activity, crew interest and capability, or purpose. FleetLink systems will provide new, cost-effective, efficient, and strategic opportunities for ocean observing in any coastal or ocean region.


Bucklin, A., C. Goudey, P.H. Wiebe, and W.G. Williams (2001) FleetLink: Collection and Telemetry of Ocean and Weather Data from Commercial Fishing Vessels. Sea Technology, May, 2001