UAE: World's first project to track kingfish by satellite implemented in Abu Dhabi

It will study behaviour and migration patterns in the waters of the Arabian Gulf and identifying their biological characteristics

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Ashwani Kumar

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Photos: Abu Dhabi Media Office
Photos: Abu Dhabi Media Office

Published: Wed 22 Nov 2023, 4:18 PM

Last updated: Thu 23 Nov 2023, 3:53 PM

A first-of-its-kind satellite tracking project for kingfish has been implemented in Abu Dhabi. The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates University is implementing the project to manage migratory fisheries in the emirate.

“The project to track kingfish by satellite is considered the first of its kind in the world, as there are other similar projects that have been implemented to track sharks, tuna, and yellowtail kingfish and some types of large fish in Norway, Australia and the United States,” Ahmed Al Hashemi, executive director of the terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector at EAD, said.

This will be achieved by studying the behaviours and migration patterns of kingfish in the waters of the Arabian Gulf and identifying their biological characteristics, while also highlighting their breeding seasons in Abu Dhabi’s waters.

The kingfish is considered a migratory pelagic fish that exists in small groups at different depths and moves from one area to another in search of food. It was chosen for the study because of its high economic, nutritional and cultural value, being the most caught migratory species in Abu Dhabi.

The technology of tracking fish via satellite is a modern method for studying the migration path and pattern of fish and migratory species. The tracking device is attached to the dorsal fin of the fish within a short period of time to avoid exposing it to stress and to ensure the success of the process, after which it is returned to the water to complete its life cycle. The device begins communicating with the satellite and sending data after it is separated from the fish automatically after six months or according to a pre-programmed time period.

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“There are no previous studies in the world to track kingfish, and this may be due to the difficulty associated with catching this type and installing the device on its body, as doing so requires great speed and care to ensure the success of the process,” he said.

“The kingfish's smooth body and relatively small size compared to sharks and tuna increases the difficulty of attaching the tracker, and fishing operations for scientific research purposes differ greatly from the traditional fishing practices.”

Al Hashemi stated that the process of collecting data on fish movement begins after the device separates from the fish’s body and floats automatically on the surface of the water after a pre-set six-month period, or if it becomes detached. The device then begins communicating with the satellite and broadcasting important information about the fish’s path from its launch point. The technical team then begins its efforts to retrieve the device from the water to obtain all the information and readings recorded by searching for it using geographical positioning systems and the goniometer.

He pointed out that 8 tracking devices have been installed on kingfish and launched in Abu Dhabi’s waters out of a total of 18 devices allocated for this project, and the remaining devices will be installed at the beginning of the kingfish season this year. This will help obtain the necessary data for the study and prepare the final report on the project’s outcomes, with recommendations for managing fishery resources and regulating the exploitation of migratory species in the emirate’s waters.

Studies show that one of the devices after it separated from a fish at a point 100 km away from the launch point, showed that the fish had travelled a distance of up to 350 km, which is equivalent to 40 km/day, and at a speed of 1.8 km/hour. The kingfish is a relatively fast-moving fish compared to other species whose movement patterns have been studied, such as the marlin, whose recorded speed reached 0.8 km/hour. The device on the kingfish recorded more than 2,000 different readings during the tracking period, which lasted for 9 days, or the equivalent of 194 hours.

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