Oregon State Working to Refine Ocean Oxygen Monitoring Sensors in Fisheries

The f/v Timmy Boy is loaded with crab pots in Newport, Ore. Photo: Tiffany Woods, Oregon Sea Grant.

Researchers at Oregon State University are collaborating with industry and tribal partners to refine and expand use of oxygen monitoring sensors to be deployed in fishing pots, to learn more about changing ocean conditions.

The three-year, $1.2 million Ocean Technology Transition grant, announced by the university on Feb. 27, is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The dissolved oxygen sensors were initially developed by Oregon State researchers over a decade ago in response to concerns from crabbers who were pulling up pots full of dead crabs caught in hypoxic dead zones.

The sensors helped them to gather information on how hypoxia, or low oxygen, is impacting crabbing in the Pacific Northwest. The oxygen sensors have proven to be an effective tool as well for crabbers and fisheries managers.

Versions of the sensors are now being used by the lobster industry on the East Coast.

“This project is really about scaling up this technology so that it can be implemented and adopted more widely across the region and potentially globally,” principal investigator Jessica Garwood, an assistant professor at Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, said.

Researchers are using their grant to refine the sensor design and expand its capabilities to provide intuitive, near real-time information to the fishing community and fisheries managers to guide decisions on where and when to place pots or pull them up.

Hypoxia is a low-oxygen condition that poses a significant threat to many marine animals, with major impacts on the ecosystem and the economy, from tourism to the seafood industry.

The Dungeness crab fishery is considered the most valuable single-species fishery in Oregon, contributing $33 million to $75 million to the economy annually, according to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

Oregon now has a “hypoxia season,” much like a wildfire season, taking place in late summer.  When oxygen levels get low enough, crabs and other marine organisms that are place-bound or cannot move away rapidly enough, die of oxygen starvation.

With funds from NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System Ocean Technology Transition program, the Oregon State team plans to work with industry, tribal and government partners to develop a low-cost sensor that collects and shares data in an automated and easy to use way, such as an app with notifications.

The collected data would also be made available to researchers through the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), where it will augment other coastal ocean data already being collected and made available to researchers worldwide.

The team has said that it’s already working with engineering company Sexton Corp., based in Salem, Ore., to manufacture prototypes of the sensor for testing in fisheries. The company’s CEO, Jeremy Childress, originally worked on the sensor project as an Oregon State graduate student.