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RFID Tracks Mussel Beds in Spain

An aquaculture company in Spain is currently testing passive RFID for tracking mussel beds.
Jun 16, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 16, 2009—A family-owned mussel business in Galicia, Spain, has teamed with researchers at the University of Vigo to test RFID for tracking mussel cultivation.

The mussel company, Concepción Suárez Fernández, collaborated with the Systems Engineering and Automation Department at the university to design a system that uses passive RFID tags to identify the ropes that the mussels grow on.

"The lack of IT in this industry has been a problem for a long time," says Jorge Nuñez, one of the owners of Concepción Suárez Fernández. "We need to know exactly what was on the mussel beds, how long they had been there, and we need to be able to forecast growth so we can plan our sales.

"We were aware that RFID was being used in other industries, but as far as we knew it hadn't been used in this particular industry," continues Nuñez, who has an engineering degree from the University of Vigo. "We felt that it would be a very good tool to simplify tracking the ropes themselves."

The University of Vigo is heading up the feasibility study on the technology and designed the test. University staff also wrote the software for the application.

Young mussels are "seeded" onto the ropes (which are then hung on a floating platform) and mature in the water until they are harvested. The platforms are approximately 500 square meters in size, and each rope can weigh anywhere from 150 to 300 kilograms.

"You can have up to 500 ropes on each platform that have been hung at different points in time, and they all look exactly the same," Nuñez says. "We need a way to distinguish them. If you forget some of the ropes, the mussels can grow too big and fall to the sea floor. If there is a storm, some of the ropes can disappear."

The RFID tags are attached to each rope and contain a unique ID number. A software application tracks all of the relevant information about the mussels on the rope so that the company knows when it should be harvested. Nuñez says that RFID could potentially make it easier to track the mussel stock.

"There are several steps in the process," Nuñez says. "When there are too many mussels for one rope, you split it in two. We can track when we put those ropes back on the mussel bed again. We can track the origin of the ropes, because they could be mixed from different places. That allows us at the end of the process to know the distribution of where the mussels came from, and how long they've been in the water."

The company has deployed tags from Premo Group (HARSH-TAG-150), Confidex (Halo) and Intermec Technologies (Large Rigid Tag). All of the tags are UHF and Gen2 compliant. The tags were designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the mussel beds (cold weather, high moisture), and so far the company has been able to read all of the tags in the test using a Motorola MC9090-G handheld RFID reader.

The RFID project, called SABATE, was partially funded by the local government's Galician Research, Development and Technological Innovation Plan.

According to Nuñez, the test is scheduled to last the length of the life of the first set of mussel ropes, which is typically one year. If successful, he hopes to deploy RFID across all four of the mussel beds the company operates.
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