U researchers get grant to track carp

A team of researchers received $2.2 million to build robotic boats.

by Yasin Mohamud

A $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation has brought together two computer scientists and a fish biologist from the University of Minnesota to develop robotic boats that track the common carp.

The University, along with Johns Hopkins University and Ohio State University, will use the money to develop the technology to identify large groups of carp so they can be netted and removed easier.

The species is so invasive that some experts say people donâÄôt know what a healthy lake or river looks like anymore.

âÄúThe common carp is the biggest problem of invasive species we have,âÄù said Peter Sorensen, a fish biology professor from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences who has been studying the common carp for more than a decade.

The common carp, which have been around since the late 1800s in the U.S., is currently half to three-quarters of the biomass of Minnesota lakes and wetlands, Sorensen said.

The fish are a danger to lake and river health because they displace aquatic plants and damage water quality with their bottom-feeding.

âÄúThey tear up these lakes and most people around here donâÄôt even know what a good lake should look like because they grew up and their parents grew up with common carp in the lakes,âÄù he said.

Volkan Isler, a computer science and engineering associate professor in the College of Science and Engineering, leads the project with Sorensen and Stergios Roumeliotis, another CSE associate professor.

The project is an expansion of another one Isler and Sorensen began several years ago, in which they built and tested a prototype robotic boat.

âÄúThe primary project is to develop the robotics technology and then use it to track carp,âÄù Isler said.

He has been working on robotics for 10 years and he said heâÄôs excited about the project because it opens the door for many other scientific disciplines.

âÄúThe fish that we are tracking actually have radio ammeters imbedded in them which beep and the robots have a directional antenna that leads us to the fish,âÄù he said. âÄúThis kind of data collection can be used for many other areas of science.âÄù

The presence of the Asian carp, also known as the silver carp, could present a new challenge for Minnesota lakes and rivers, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural resources.

The DNR announced last week that water samples from the Mississippi River tested positive for Asian carp DNA. Through the testing, researchers found that there are some silver carp downstream from the Ford Dam in Minneapolis.

âÄúThereâÄôs a very high chance that in 10 to 20 years the silver carp situation will be like the common carp situation,âÄù Sorensen said.

The common carp are especially tricky to spot because they donâÄôt jump up, unlike the silver carp, and they are green so people assume they are regular fish, Sorensen said.

âÄúYou donâÄôt see them, and you canâÄôt catch them, but they are there in huge numbers,âÄù Sorensen said. âÄúHundreds of thousands of lakes are wrecked by them.âÄù

Isler said the main challenge for him and the team is that the hardware being used to develop the robots is âÄúoff the shelfâÄù so developing algorithms that make sure the robots work efficiently can be a long process.

Despite the progress itâÄôs made so far, Isler said he doesnâÄôt think the team is even close to solving the carp problem.

âÄúMy hope is that we can demonstrate that these robots can find the fish effectively, and we will build on that,âÄù he said.

Sorensen also thinks the carp problem will take many resources and years to combat, but is hopeful the technology will aid in controlling the carp.

âÄúWe can give people some optimism that we can do something about invasive fish in general, if weâÄôre imaginative and use some science.âÄù


-The Associated Press contributed to this report.