16 June, 2003 Rome -- An FAO-led international partnership has launched a new Web site aimed at promoting the use of telemetry technologies in fisheries and aquaculture management.

The Organization announced the launch of the Web site at the fifth Conference on Fish Telemetry in Europe, convened 9-13 June 2003 in Ustica, Italy.

"Telemetry is a very useful tool," says Gerd Marmulla, an FAO Fisheries Resource Officer and one of the creators of the new Web site. "With this technique you can show fish behaviour and deduce appropriate management measures based on that data."

"The idea behind this site is to promote the use of telemetry in fisheries and aquaculture by collecting as much information on this technology as possible and making it as widely available as possible," he adds.

A powerful tool for fisheries and aquaculture research

The use of telemetry in fisheries and aquaculture involves tagging individual members of fish populations with small transmitters. These devices measure different variables and transmit that data to listening posts.

Using biotelemetry, for instance, researchers can measure a fish's body temperature, heart rate or swimming speed. They can determine light intensity experienced by fish, exact paths of travel, water temperature or the orientation of a fish's body relative to its centre of gravity.

These and other details are combined to develop a comprehensive picture of fish behaviour, the state of the ecosystems they inhabit and how they react to external stimuli -- including human activities.

FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries states that management decisions should be based on the best scientific evidence available. It also emphasizes that fisheries and aquaculture management should strive to safeguard ecosystems and biodiversity.

Telemetry is already being used towards precisely these ends.

For example, in France, researchers have used the technology to determine whether fish passes built to enable natural fish migrations were working adequately, and have come up with new pass designs when necessary.

Similarly, a number of aquaculture operations are using biotelemetry to find out how fish adapt to rearing environments, or to see if feeding schedules match fish activity rhythms.

Encouraging technology transfer

But while fisheries and aquaculture managers in some countries are already using telemetry to make fisheries more sustainable and better integrate biodiversity concerns into management plans, the technology has not yet caught on evenly across the globe.

In particular, FAO fisheries experts perceived a need to foster wider use of the technology in the developing world, where inland fisheries play a key role in combating hunger and food insecurity. For instance, in Malawi and Uganda consumption of fish -- mainly freshwater species caught in inland streams and rivers -- provides over a quarter of people's intake of animal protein.

FAO's Fisheries Department -- along with four partners, the Global Biotelemetry Institute at the University of British Columbia (Canada), the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (France), the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and the Université of Liège (Belgium) -- began to develop an educational Web site aimed at encouraging technology transfer and wider use of biotelemetry.

A one-stop shop for telemetry know-how

The new site provides access to a wealth of information on telemetry, collected and posted by FAO and its partners. In the future, this store of knowledge will continue to grow as researchers and resource managers from around the world add to it.

"The site is a public information forum," explains Marmulla. "If someone has a project with telemetry as a tool, they can submit information on the project. Others who want to develop similar projects can then use that as a resource."

In addition to reports on project methodologies, results and the application of those results, technical papers and articles from scientific and popular journals can also be added by the site's users. A panel comprised of experts from the sponsoring institutions has been set up to review all inputs.

At the same, the site gives those considering using telemetry the ability to contact an international network of experts with questions regarding the best use of the technology.

"In this public forum an ongoing discussion regarding the use of this technology can occur," Marmulla says. "Questions can be asked, and answers can be found."

The site is only one component of an FAO-led collaborative effort to promote the use of telemetry in fisheries and aquaculture. Later this year the Organization will publish a comprehensive manual detailing all aspects of the use of telemetry in fisheries and aquaculture. And FAO continues to help organize hands-on fish telemetry workshops worldwide to foster technology transfer and capacity building.

George Kourous
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53168