Counting Shrimp with Sonar

Ever wonder where shrimp come from? Shrimp farming is harder than you might think! Agriculture and aquaculture farmers need to understand how many plants and animals they are growing on land or in the water to make decisions on their farms. For aqua-farmers, counting shrimp is a major challenge because their animals are grown in murky water and the farmers are blindfolded to how many shrimp they have. Minnowtech aims to help the farmers by counting their shrimp using sonar and doing the math behind their behavior, providing aqua-farmers with the information they need to manage their farms efficiently. In this seminar, Dr. Suzan Shahrestani of Minnowtech tells us how shrimp and other seafood get to your dinner plate, and how Minnowtech is striving to make that process easier for farmers.

Aquaculture is a fairly new field in farming. Dr. Shahrestani touched on the different types of aqua-farming from oysters, salmon, yellowtail, tilapia, and even seaweed as well as the sophisticated engineering solutions developed for each. Minnowtech aims to make aquaculture more efficient and sustainable through technology integration.

Dr. Shahrestani pointed out that other types of meat are inefficient in comparison to fish. This is because other forms of meat like chicken, pork, and beef require much more feed to just grow. Cows, in particular, eat the most. They also release the most energy before ending up on our plates. Ultimately, hamburgers are more expensive to the environment than fish sticks due to the increased methane output and feed required to raise the same amount of meat. Furthermore, fish use less energy by being buoyant in water as opposed to land animals which are weighed down further by gravity.

Energy efficiency isn’t the only benefit of aquaculture. For instance, aquaculture allows further growth in less space (i.e. vertical farming). However, aquaculture presents its own problems by being in the water. It is harder to calculate crop quantity in the water. In general, science on land is easier rather than in the water. Electronics and data collection in marine environments is a tricky area to navigate, but thanks to naval research (i.e. sonar radar) these technologies can be repurposed for commercial uses.

The challenge with shrimp farming is that hundreds of thousands of animals grow in turbid water. There is no way to see below the surface even with cameras to judge the quality and yield of their crop. Minnowtech’s solution is to use sonar devices to see into the murky water. The company’s initial deployment and testing started in Hawaii and the team has taken trips around the world to apply their solution to real-life situations. The majority of shrimp farming happens at backyard farms in Southeast Asia and Central America. Due to the small-scale nature of these farms, Minnowtech’s work is even more important and impactful for the lives of these farmers.

Dr. Shahrestani concluded her talk by touching on her dissertation research in which she studied counting jellyfish. Through the IMET Ratcliffe Environmental Entrepreneur Fellowship (REEF) program she transitioned her dissertation work to an aquaculture industry-level startup and co-founded Minnowtech. Countless prototypes ultimately led to Minnowtech’s BRS-1 which is now on the market and you can check out here: