The Most Automated Catch, Part 1

I was watching an old episode of Deadliest Catch recently and one of the captains said he’d staff the boat with robots and run it from Seattle if he could. Naturally, that got me thinking…

First, could robots crab fish? Most of the process could be automated pretty easily, it’s a lot of repetitive actions. But, they are complicated by rolling seas and winter storms. So first order of business, the robots would need to be able to carry out their tasks on a shifting surface that isn’t always level. Or dry.

The two other tasks that, while repetitive, require some form of human cognition are throwing the hook and sorting the crab.

Throwing the hook could potentially be done by a pneumatic launcher that reels the line back in. Or by a specially designed robot. Or something else. But the tool will need to judge the distance to the line to be hooked. Launching the same distance every time seems inefficient and carries the common issue of a “standard” distance needing to be chosen, what happens when an outlier crops up? The entire system will need to be able to adapt and handle missed throws that may require turning around. Crab fishing isn’t just an assembly line on the ocean.

These seem like minor quibbles though, and it’s the crab sorting that interests me most.

Crabs must be of a certain size, gender, and type. A crab is plucked from a pile and checked to make sure it is a) the right species, b) male, and c) at least the minimum size or larger. If the crab meets all three criteria it is kept, if it doesn’t it is returned to the ocean. Sounds like a problem for computer vision! A system could be trained on pictures of different crab species and genders and then set look for only males of the species being fished. Then the crab could be measured for size and compared to the minimum allowable as the final yes/no criteria. You could even develop different systems for each species since only one species is fished at once.

So, yeah, I think it’s feasible that we could have robot crab fishers one day.