Office of Naval Research (ONR) / National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP)

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

The widespread temporal / spatial distribution of commercial fishing vessels makes them ideal platforms from which to gather basic information for coastal monitoring, modeling, and prediction. The use of fishing vessels as platforms has been limited to date by lack of cooperation between the fishing community, government agencies, and the ocean research community. To meet these needs, a system known as FleetLink was designed and developed with funding from the Office of Naval Research (via the National Ocean Partnership Program, NOPP).

Long-term Goals

The FleetLink partnership, including commercial fishermen and researchers, educators, and coastal managers, has a long-term goal of 100 or more fully-instrumented fishing vessels, which provide enhanced oceanographic and meteorological data collection capacity for coastal and offshore areas throughout the NW Atlantic. With the successful development and fabrication of prototype systems, and successful demonstration of the feasibility of obtaining low-cost real-time data, the FleetLink project is now moving toward commercial production of the modular sensor systems, with broader marketing to the oceanographic research and coastal management communities.

Project Objectives

Figure 1. The FleetLink project logo, showing fishing boats in the Gulf of Maine, a communications satellite overhead, and the locations of the shore-based data servers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Portland (ME) Fish Auction.


Partnership Building: FleetLink is a partnership between researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and commercial fishermen. Leadership of FleetLink by New Hampshire Sea Grant has ensured the extension of the results to a diverse group of end users. Sea Grant Extension staff at UNH and MIT have been responsible for facilitating communication and coordination between the research and fishing communities (Figure 2). Fishermen's organizations, particularly the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), have helped build fishermen's interest in FleetLink and identify vessels for prototype demonstration.

FleetLink System Design and Operation: The FleetLink system consists of an on-board Pentium II based computer with LCD medium resolution screen; serial interfaces connect to oceanographic (sea surface temperature and temperature/pressure) and meteorological (wind speed and direction; air temperature, relative humidity, and pressure) sensors, an InmarSat satellite C communication Transmit/Receive unit, and a GPS receiver (Figure 3). Data from the FleetLink Sensor System are acquired by the PC-based system mounted in the vessel's pilothouse. MIT developed this system using commercially-available hardware, standard software modules, and a custom-developed software application referred to as WheelHouse. The WheelHouse software application incorporates multitasking using several software packages, including Athena (a shipboard sensor interface program developed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for

Figure 2. FleetLink partners (from left) Gary Williams, Ann Bucklin, Bob Groman, Cliff Goudey, and Craig Pendleton meeting on the F/V Susan & Caitlyn to discuss operations of the FleetLink-equipped vessel.

Figure 3. One of the FleetLink vessels, F/V Susan & Caitlyn at the dock in Portland (ME) Harbor (above, left) with a close-up of the sensors of the mast (above, right).

research vessels). Data on fishing activity and relevant observations are entered by the captain using custom graphic user interfaces (GUIs). The sensors' data streams are both telemetered and displayed on the WheelHouse computer. The receiving system is a LINUX-based PC located at WHOI which receives, serves, and stores the environmental and fisheries data. With the exception of the fishery catch data (which are confidential), the processed data are available to end users.

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.

The FleetLink partners have equipped participating commercial fishing vessels with integrated sensor systems for the autonomous collection and real-time telemetry of ocean (sea surface temperature and vertical temperature structure) and weather (wind speed and direction, humidity, air temperature, and air pressure) 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 ocean and weather data are collected and autonomously telemetered from commercial fishing vessels to a shore-based data server at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), where the data are received and served by the JGOFS Data Information software. The real-time data (without georeferencing) are accessible at; georeferenced data (without vessel identification) are available by request. Hourly meteorological data are useful to the National Weather Service, and we are working to integrate this data stream into the Global Telecommunications System (GTS) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which ensures access and use by all federal agencies and programs.

Proprietary fisheries catch data are collected, and can be distributed to the vessel's cooperative via confidential email exchanges to and from the vessel. Catch data may eventually be incorporated into an open-access database for each fishery and may be used for real-time marketing of the fish catch.

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 (Figure 4). Underway sea surface temperature (SST) was measured and vertical temperature profiles were

Figure 4. Position of four transects sampled by the FV Glenna & Jacob during July,2001. The parallel transects all cross the 60 m isobath on the southern flank of Georges Bank.

Figure 5. Water column temperature structure along transect Line 4 across the tidal mixing front based on up-casts of the FleetLink NetSensor.

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 Figure 5 and

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.


With ONR/NOPP funding, the FleetLink partnership worked toward commercial production of the FleetLink sensor system, as a self-contained, autonomous, modular, and customizable instrument package for oceanographic and meteorological data collection. The commercialization process is being completed with funding from NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) through the new UNH Center of Excellence in Coastal Ocean Observation and Analysis (COOA; see With NOAA/NOS funding, Clearwater Instrumentation, the FleetLink industry partner, has assumed full responsibility for continued software and hardware development and production. Clearwater is currently nearing completion of the first project goal: production of deployable software (i.e., CD-based executables) and conversion of the data telemetry carrier to the new, less-expensive Iridium satellite communications system. We are on-schedule for installation of three new systems during Spring, 2003 and continued real-time data transmissions from all six vessels through 2004. Using NOAA/NOS funding, WHOI is assisting in the conversion to Iridium data transmission and is serving FleetLink data ( FleetLink is now included within the COOA mission to establish a sustainable program of coastal ocean observations, analysis, and enabling technology development that is focused on delivering information useful to scientists, managers, policy makers, and of general interest to the public. Consequently, FleetLink data are being linked to the COOA data management capacity at UNH and will be integrated and visualized with other coastal ocean observing data from the Gulf of Maine.

The FY2003 COOA proposal to NOAA/NOS includes funding for continuation and growth in the FleetLink coastal observing system. These funds will allow production and continuous operation of three additional FleetLink systems, bringing the total fleet up to nine vessels. This step is very important for the project, since we will begin to achieve high spatial resolution, synopticity, and more complete temporal coverage of observations in coastal waters of the western Gulf of Maine. Another marked advantage will be the anonymity of our data with the larger number of vessels. Commercial fishermen are almost universally concerned about allowing anyone - especially other commercial fishermen - to know their location in real-time, since it reveals their secret fishing spots and can indicate when and where the fish are (by the lack of movement of the vessel). With nine vessels in a variety of fisheries and gear types, we can protect the identity of the fishermen simply by removing the vessel name from our on-line data.

The FleetLink partners, with Clearwater Instrumentation in the lead, is marketing the FleetLink sensor system for coastal ocean observation from commercial fishing vessels, coastal transportation and shipping, and other ships of opportunity. We anticipate that the market for FleetLink sensor systems will sustain the infrastructure necessary to maintain the real-time data telemetry and data management functions, and result in an effective, low-cost, high-time/space resolution, real-time coastal ocean observing system.

The FleetLink name has been trademarked by the University of New Hampshire.


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.

Abstracts, Reports, and Presentations at Professional Meetings

Bucklin, A. and the FleetLink Partnership (1999 and 2000) Ocean and weather data collection and telemetry from fishing vessels: opportunities for commercial fishermen. Poster presentations at the Maine Fishermens' Forum (March 1999 and 2000) Rockland, ME.

Bucklin, A., C.A. Goudey, P.H. Wiebe, W.G. Williams, C.A. Pendleton. K. Ekstrom, R. Groman, and R. Barnaby (2001) Pilot-Scale Operation of the FleetLink Fishing Vessel Data Telemetry System. Fifth symposium on Integrated Observing Systems, American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (14-19 January 2001) Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Goudey, C.A., A. Bucklin, P.H. Wiebe, G. Williams, D.G. Mountain, R.C. Groman, K.D. Ekstrom, R. Barnaby, C. Pendleton, R. Kohl, and C. McLellan (2002) FleetLink: autonomous collection and telemetry of real-time data from commercial fishing vessels for ocean observing. American Geophysical Union, 2002 Ocean Sciences Meeting (February 11-15) Honolulu, Hawaii. EOS 83(4): 105-106.

Groman, R. C. (2002) FleetLink: Meteorological and Oceanographic Data Automatically Telemetered from Fishing Vessels. NOAA / New England Marine Workshop, Providence, RI. October 30-31, 2002

Other communications products

Cohen, A. (2000) New Fishery Targets Scientific Data, Two If By Sea, A Joint Newsletter of the MIT and WHOI Sea Grant Programs, Summer, 2000.

Cohen, A. (2002) Adopt-a-Boat Links Fishermen and Educators. Two If By Sea, A Joint Newsletter of the MIT and WHOI Sea Grant Programs, Spring, 2002.

NH Sea Grant (2001) The Fleetlink Program (video). Copyrighted by the FleetLink Project. NH Sea Grant Report No. NHU-V-01-001.

Stevens, L. (2002) Cooperative research in the Maine fishing fleet. Commercial Fisheries News, Compass Publications, Inc., April, 2002.

Van Zile, D. (2001) Technology Takes to the Sea, MIT Technology Review, June 2001