The Future of Gulf Coast Fishery is Drones

American Marine Research Institute | Lionfish Drone Project

Written by Dana Williams 

There is a buzz about, and I don’t mean overhead. Yuan Wang and his team, at the American Marine Research Company (AMRC), are undertaking a project that could save our gulf coast fisheries; while providing a delicious fish at an affordable cost. He and his team are working on three separate drone designs to kill and capture the invasive lionfish –  a problem we are currently trying to handle throughout the gulf coast region, but currently, have very little resources or manpower to manage.

Lionfish kill and eat everything they can from octopus, snapper, and grouper to entire lobsters. They reproduce at a rapid rate with females laying 2 million eggs per year each and reaching sexual maturity in only ten months. Lionfish also have site loyalty, meaning they find a reef and overrun it. This reduces the site’s overall native species recruitment by 80 percent in merely 2-3 years. Many of these reef sites are not reachable to divers and there are certainly not enough divers to handle the invasion alone. These statistics could be catastrophic for our reefs and fisheries, but thankfully we now have the AMRC.

Yuan Wang, software engineer, mathematician and former Princeton University graduate, is the team’s brilliant president. Ian Switzer, electrical engineer and project manager, Taylor Njaka, and Ducan Michael, mechanical engineers are the crew’s original founding members of the AMRC. Once a quartet, now are joined by two students from the University of West Florida, mechanical engineer and build lead Kiara Korkuc, was AMRC’s first intern and is currently an undergraduate at UWF who is co-leading the team’s build effort with another UWF undergrad and Pensacola native, Brian Arnold. This brilliant troupe of young entrepreneurs is leading the way for a real solution to an environmental crisis in our Gulf Coast waters.

The letters of support for this project are exceptional. Supporters include: Member of Congress Matt Gaetz, President of the UWF Martha D. Saunder, State Representative Clay Ingram, and Quint Studer on behalf of the Studer Community Institute, have all written letters of endorsement to the ARMC. Gulf Coast Restaurant owners and chefs alike would love to see this brilliant team’s success. Great Southern Restaurant Group has even reached out with a letter of support from Mr. J Collier Merrill.

In it he states, “Living and doing Business on the Gulf of Mexico, the arrival, and now infestation of lionfish has become an incredibly important issue as the threaten the current habitat of our native species thereby affecting a major component of our natural ecosystem, economic development and Tourism here in Pensacola.”

He has promised to sell lionfish at his restaurants, whenever available, to help with this invasive species. Merrill also commented after meeting with Mr. Yuan he knew that this enterprise had the right leader at the forefront.

Chef Irv Miller of GSRG’s Jackson’s Steak House located in Pensacola, FL, spoke with us recently and had this to say – 

“It’s my wish to find a better way to make lionfish a viable option for everyone. I purchase lionfish from diver to door, and this is not possible outside the coastal vicinity. Lionfish hunters often hold out for the big bucks and ship them to high-end seafood dealers for high-end restaurants in large metropolitan cities. We should figure a way to keep pricing fair statewide along the Gulf coast.

“This would appeal more to seafood markets, mainstream restaurants, and profitability for all parties.  We can then teach cooks how to properly handle the fish. The long-term goal is to eradicate this tasty invasive species, so they stop feeding on our natural fish species invertebrates which could be disastrous to future generations and our fisheries,” he said.

How can we lose with a fantastic intelligent team and all of our support? There is no way Yuan Wang and his teammates at the AMRC can fail. Already having a few successful test runs in 200 ft. pools there are only a few details and tweaks to work out.

All there is to do is to look forward to the future of robotic fishery with these innovative new drones!

For more information on the American Marine Research Company and the lionfish drone project, visit americanmarineresearch.org.