Hatchery International

PNNL technology serves as fish body double

Hundreds of surrogate “fish” will be put to work at dams around the world through an agreement between Isanti, Minn.-based Advanced Telemetry Systems (ATS) and Richland, Wash.-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to improve operations and increase sustainability.

May 24, 2019  By Hatchery International Staff

Hundreds of surrogate “fish” will be put to work at dams around the world

PNNL developed the Sensor Fish to understand what happens to fish as they pass through turbulent waters and turbines at hydroelectric facilities. The Sensor Fish is a small autonomous device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stressors that fish, such as juvenile salmon, experience when passing through or around dams.

The technology was recently licensed to ATS through a process known as technology transfer, which enables federally-funded research to be made commercially available.  

The sensors provide dam operators and fisheries researchers with accurate, physical measurements such as acceleration, pressure, rotational velocity and orientation, which convey what real fish experience during downstream passage. Each sensor provides roughly 2,000 measurements per second and typically takes less than two minutes to pass through the dam due to the water’s velocity.

Once the Sensor Fish comes out on the other side of the dam, an automatic retrieval system brings it to the surface. Radio signals and flashing LED lights from the Sensor Fish will then allow them to be collected quickly from boats stationed nearby.


The Sensor Fish has demonstrated its value in many field studies. Now, with the technology licensed to ATS, the manufacturing process can be streamlined, and more hydropower operators and researchers will be able to put it to use. www.pnnl.gov

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