August 1, 2017

Automating Counting Fish: 2016 NOAA Hollings Scholars Caleb Perez and Tzofi Klinghoffer

By Bayley Connors

2016 Hollings Scholars Caleb Perez and Tzofi Klinghoffer are working this summer with researches at MIT Sea Grant, focusing on developing technological solutions that will improve upon current methods used for monitoring fish populations.

Camera monitoring is one tool used by regulatory managers to assess fisheries populations. The process requires people to spend hours identifying fish within images taken of the ocean floor, a painstaking and time-consuming process. They do this for millions of pictures, and for good reason. Sustainable fishing habits help prevent overfishing of any particular species; if a commercially valuable species were to disappear from an area, its surrounding economy could experience significant ramifications.

“To make these important biological and economic decisions, it takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy to get to a place where [managers] are informed enough,” says Perez. Both Perez and Klinghoffer have been designing an object recognition algorithm, one that will essentially streamline the identification and counting of fish found in images. “Our goal,” says Klinghoffer, “is to automate the process.”

By using an automated computer process to distinguish and count individual fish by species, the program will drastically reduce the time required to estimate population numbers. Looking ahead, they hope to create a complete software package. This would include a user interface, allowing organizations to input their images and scan for desired parameters. The technology being developed by these two Hollings Scholars at MIT Sea Grant is of great interest to NOAA, state, and local fisheries managers, providing benefits in terms of streamlining the process, reducing time, cost, and resource requirements, and improving accuracy. Once complete, this technology will be made available for use by NOAA and other interested parties. Meeting this goal requires a long-term approach, one that Perez and Klinghoffer are willing to take beyond the timeline of their summer internships.

They first became interested in MIT Sea Grant after learning of this project from the Hollings Scholarship Program. Perez, a rising senior from the University of Washington, is majoring in Bioengineering. Seeking experience with computer science, MIT Sea Grant was a great fit for him. Klinghoffer, a rising senior from the University of Alabama, is majoring in Computer Science with minors in Chinese and Social Justice. He came to MIT Sea Grant looking to learn more about image recognition, and liked the motivation behind the project at hand. The Hollings Scholarship program and MIT Sea Grant have provided them with the opportunity to pursue their interests and gain valuable educational and professional experiences, while contributing to solving issues of importance to NOAA and its partners and stakeholders. With its focus on research, education, and stakeholder engagement, the Sea Grant Program is a natural fit for Hollings Scholars.

Both Perez and Klinghoffer will remain working on their program until the first week of August, during which they will present their findings in Washington, D.C. Participating in NOAA’s annual Science & Education Symposium, the two will reveal the application of their work to an intrigued audience – researchers and managers alike will be anticipating the software to come.


Read about our other 2016 Hollings Scholar who used unmanned aerial systems to map eelgrass beds.

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2016 NOAA Hollings Scholars Caleb Perez and Tzofi Klinghoffer.