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Scottish Mackerel Factories, Norwegian Researchers Track Fish Health via RFID

The LF system, provided by RFID Solutions, is enabling researchers in Norway and factories on both coasts of the North Sea to track populations of mackerel being caught.
By Claire Swedberg

Mackerel serve an important ecological role in various parts of the Northeast Atlantic, both on the coastlines and at sea. They also serve as a valuable stock for the fish market in Scandinavia and in Scotland. Financially, it is considered the most valuable stock in the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the management of mackerel has been a key effort in Norway for decades.

The tagging of mackerel dates back nearly half a century, explains Aril Slotte, IMR's lead scientist in the RFID-tagging program. In 1968, scientists at the institute first started injecting metal tags into the muscular tissue of fish in spawning grounds west of Ireland and Scotland. Each tag had a unique ID number etched into it, and the fish were then released.

To identify tagged fish once they were caught, fish factories used metal detectors. If the detectors identified a tagged fish, it was removed from the catch and transported to an IMR lab, at which the tag was extracted and its visual ID number was input to link to biological data, such as the fish's length, weight and age. Locating those tags and viewing their IDs was a large and cumbersome process, however.

With the implementation of the RFID system in 2011, Slotte says, this process became automatic. Researchers inject 134.2 kHz RFID tags that measure 3.85 millimeters by 23 millimeters (0.15 inch by 0.9 inch) into the muscle of young fish. The IMR has tagged about 160,000 mackerel in this way thus far.

At each participating factory where the caught fish are processed before being shipped to retailers, an RFID reader and antenna have been installed at the assembly line on which processing begins. Most readers are mounted on the main conveyor belt where fish are sorted into sized groups, Slotte says. In Iceland, the reader is installed at the pipeline that pumps fish from the vessel into the factory. In the latter case, a ring antenna is installed around the pipeline.

Readers transmit data directly back to the centralized software in Norway. The RFID antennas at conveyors and pipe lines can capture reads as more than 50,000 kilograms (55 tons) of fish pass through the portals. In total, 300,000 metric tons of mackerel are screened by the antennas each year.

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