A new Canadian project – the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) – will use a sea-bottom network of acoustic receivers to track fish movement and the ocean’s physical changes. Project leader Ron O’Dor says the project could transform conservation and fisheries management, particularly for highly mobile species. “OTN will provide a thousand times more information on where marine animals go and where they die,” he says.

This is not the first project to monitor fish movement through the use of transmitter tags in animals (“Acoustic Tracking of Fish: How Continuous Data on Fish Movement Could Change the Planning of MPAs”, MPA News 5:9). But it is the most ambitious in scale. OTN aims to deploy 5000 receivers throughout the Earth’s oceans, eventually tracking up to one million individual animals at a time. Transmitter tags ranging in size from an almond to an AA battery will be inserted in animals, and will collect a variety of data on the fish’s environment (e.g., depth, temperature, water salinity). Each time the animal passes a line of seafloor receivers, the tag will transmit its collected data to the receivers and indicate the fish’s presence. The plan is for receivers to be deployed in every ocean region within five years, with the North Pacific and North Atlantic completed first.

OTN personnel suggest the project will provide the “missing link” between marine science and marine resource management, including MPAs. “It is relatively easy to choose a location for an MPA that protects species during a particular life stage, but ensuring the future of a species can require that all life history stages be protected,” says O’Dor. “An example is grouper and related species that spend greater than 95% of their lives defending small territories, but migrate to spawning aggregation sites to reproduce. These concentrations in breeding grounds are prime fishing sites. To manage such stocks, we must know where they go and protect them wherever they are.”

David VanderZwaag is leading the legal and social science component of OTN. “OTN has the potential to substantially influence national, bilateral, regional, and global ocean governance processes,” he says. “Greater knowledge of migratory paths of marine species and their critical habitats may assist with MPA designation at multiple levels. New international agreements may be necessary – for example under the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species – to conserve marine species of special transboundary concern.” The project website is http://www.oceantrackingnetwork.org.

For more information:
Ron O’Dor, Dalhousie University, 1355 Oxford St., Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada. Tel: +1 902 494 2357; E-mail: rodor@coreocean.org