Fish mortality detection system selected for NewTechAqua Award Challenge

The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute has been selected for the 2023 NewTechAqua Award Challenge for a system for mortality monitoring.

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Large tank of Atlantic salmon in the semi-commercial RAS at the Freshwater Institute. Credits: The Conservation Fund
March 27, 2023

The Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute has been selected for the 2023 NewTechAqua Award Challenge. Freshwater Institute’s real-time fish mortality detection system was one of five entries chosen from 47 proposals for the Award Challenge — and it is the only winner from the United States.

NewTechAqua, based in Belgium, aims to demonstrate that investment in sustainable aquaculture research and innovation creates new value chains, markets, growth and jobs in coastal, offshore and landlocked areas. The NewTechAqua Award Challenge advances solutions to challenges limiting economic, environmental and social benefits and impacts in aquaculture. This was the first year Freshwater Institute applied to be considered as part of the Award Challenge. Proposals were evaluated based on factors such as leadership, team management and the potential impact of the technology.

A specialty of the Freshwater Institute, recirculating aquaculture systems allow operators to create ideal water quality and optimal fish health and welfare conditions. However, fish mortality can still occur in such systems due to disruptions such as disease and irregular water quality events.

“That’s why our scientists proposed a mortality monitoring and alert tool to help farm managers make better-informed decisions on mortality management and maintaining good fish health and welfare,” said Brian Vinci, director of the Freshwater Institute.

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The MortCam. Credits: The Conservation Fund.

The system, designated MortCam, uses artificial intelligence and internet of things deployed at the edge to provide round-the-clock mortality monitoring and trigger an alarm when mortality thresholds are exceeded.

“MortCam consists of an imaging sensor integrated with an edge computing device customized for underwater applications,” said Freshwater Institute research scientist and precision aquaculture team leader, Rakesh Ranjan. “Images acquired are used to train and optimize a machine learning model for resource-constrained edge devices with limited computation capability to detect and count dead fish accumulated near the drain plate. The model is deployed on the MortCam to log the mortality data at a user-defined frequency. The system generates an email and text alerts to notify operators of mortality events. In this way, real-time mortality alerts may aid in proactively initiating procedures to prevent potential additional mortalities.”

The development of MortCam is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). Freshwater Institute and the USDA-ARS have collaborated for over 30 years and share a proven track record of providing the U.S. aquaculture industry with improved genetic stocks and new technologies for strengthening recirculating aquaculture systems, fish health and management practices. Their most recent initiative into precision aquaculture seeks to increase yields and product quality while improving production efficiencies and enhancing fish welfare.

For more information about the NewTechAqua Award Challenge, visit