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A Fisherman’s Dream
composite map FishBytes draws on chlorophyll data like that from NASA’s Aqua satellite, used to generate this composite map.
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FishBytes, featuring a database of fish species FishBytes, featuring a database of fish species, uses sea surface temperature and chlorophyll levels measured by NASA satellites to help anglers locate the best areas for their favorite catches.
›  Link to larger photo
How a NASA partner uses satellite data to show anglers the way to the next big catch.

Sport fishing is an uncertain pastime. Some days the fish are biting; others, not. But for captains of charter fishing boats and recreational fishermen making the most of a day off from work, returning without a catch is more than just a disappointment—it can have a financial impact as well, from wasted gas to frustrated clients taking their business elsewhere. Thanks to an evolving commercial partnership, oceanic data gathered by NASA satellites is now helping take the guesswork out of finding fishing hotspots.

In 1997, NASA launched the first of more than 20 satellites that now comprise the Earth Observing System (EOS). These satellites were designed to help scientists understand climate change and humans’ role in it on a long-term, global scale. However, NASA soon realized that the EOS was making unique observations of weather and the ocean, as well.

SPoRT Fishing

WorldWinds Inc., a private weather forecasting company based in Slidell, Louisiana, reached out to the Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT) at Marshall Space Flight Center in 2006, seeking use of the program’s oceanic data. WorldWinds, which gathers weather and oceanic information from multiple sources and packages it into publicly useable products, was impressed by SPoRT’s data capabilities related to sea surface temperature and chlorophyll, the light-absorbing, energy-producing material found in plants like tiny, oceanic phytoplankton.

In 2006, Baron Services Inc.—a Huntsville, Alabama weather solutions company that also evolved from a NASA partnership—approached WorldWinds to develop a fisherman’s dream: a method of forecasting favorable conditions for certain fish populations. The result, which incorporates SPoRT data, is FishBytes.

FishBytes guides fishing enthusiasts to areas most likely to be populated by their target fish. It features a database of fish species popular with anglers, including tuna, mahi-mahi, sailfish, marlin, and tarpon. The system gathers environmental information, like sea surface temperature and chlorophyll, from a range of sources, including SPoRT, to compare to its fish preferences database. The results are remarkably accurate predictions of specific fish population locations within a 2-kilometer range.

“We’ve had great feedback from people saying FishBytes works even better than they expected,” says Elizabeth Valenti, WorldWinds president. “The fishermen love it.”

From Satellite Data to Satellite Radio

WorldWinds sends the FishBytes data to the WxWorx division of Baron Services, which then broadcasts the service as part of XM WX Satellite Weather’s Master Mariner package. This package includes WorldWinds weather data that enables anglers to track storms as well as fishing hotspots. XM WX is part of XM Satellite Radio, the Nation’s leading satellite radio service.

Besides its effectiveness at pinpointing fish hangouts, FishBytes has significant range; while most current fish forecasting systems are limited to small regions, Valenti notes, FishBytes covers the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, and the XM Satellite Radio footprint reaches miles offshore in all directions from the continental United States.

WorldWinds plans to expand its database of fish species, helping anglers save gas and time tracking down their favorite catches, all with the continued partnership of NASA.

“As a taxpayer, you see millions of dollars being invested in NASA, and technology transfer programs like SPoRT help people realize benefits from the tax dollars used to fund this research,” says Valenti. “It’s something that they deserve.”

FishBytes™ and WxWorx™ are trademarks of Baron Services Inc.
XM WX Satellite Weather® is a registered trademark of XM Satellite Radio Inc.

To learn more about this NASA spinoff, read the original article from Spinoff 2009.