A helping hand for Fish..
Interview with Dr David Lambert – Managing Director – Fish Guidance Systems Ltd
The world is now waking up the effects that the human race is having on the world
Tell us about yourself?
I have always been drawn to the natural world. I am an environmentalist at heart and since a young age, I have been fascinated by biology. My parents would’ve preferred I go into banking but when I got the chance I studied Environmental Science at Plymouth Polytechnic before completing a doctorate at Leeds University on the effects of acid rain.
I could have easily stayed in academia but I wanted to have a real-world effect on the environment, so I joined an environmental consultancy that focused specifically on contaminated sites. I joined Fish Guidance System at the very beginning and rose from electronic engineer to the managing director of the company, which has been my role for the last 24 years and purchased the company in 2015.
Everything I do is guided by my original passion for the environment but I don’t see myself as an activist – running a company like Fish Guidance Systems allows me to deliver a better environment for everyone.
How did the business start?
Fish Guidance Systems was established by Dr Andy Turnpenny, a fisheries scientist, and Dr Jeremy Nedwell, an underwater acoustician. Andy had led the fisheries research group for the UK CEGB (Central Generating Electricity Board) before it was privatised in the early 1990s, and had been involved in researching fish screening at a number of UK power stations. With the interest in building the River Severn Barrage in the 1980s, and due to the size of the proposed barrier and potential debris in the river, his group had realised that traditional screens were not suitable. The research group, therefore, began researching behavioural barriers, which provide a natural stimulus that the fish dislike, to deter the fish from entering a water intake. Andy had identified that acoustic systems offered the best results, but couldn’t find any equipment that would last in an aggressive marine environment.
Meanwhile, Jeremy had his own specialist underwater acoustic consultancy, which he had established after leaving his Admiralty research and lecturing post and he met Andy at a conference. They realised their potential synergy and Fish Guidance Systems was created over a pint at the bar. Andy would provide the fisheries expertise, while Jeremy used his acoustic knowledge and previous experience of sound systems while working as a roadie for some of the largest UK rock bands in the 1980s to develop the underwater systems.
Tell us about the Acoustic Fish Deterrent and where it is being used?
Acoustic fish deterrents (AFDs) are a way to guide and deter fish from estuarine cooling water intakes.
Fish Guidance Systems’ unique sound signals are tailored with frequencies that maximise the range of species that can be deterred by the AFD. This not only helps sustain fish populations but also can prevent disruption to facilities such as power stations.
The initial systems were developed for the power industry and one of the first installations was at Doel nuclear power plant in Belgium. The system was independently evaluated by a local university and demonstrated that the system was particularly suitable for deflecting ‘fragile’ fish, such as herring and sprat, with deflection rates of over 94% forherring and 87% for the sprat. This is a result of these fish being particularly sensitive to sound. As a result, the installation of an AFD system in combination with a fish return for the less sensitive fish was recommended as Best Practice by the UK Environment Agency and the company has installed systems at a number of UK coastal power stations, the largest being at Pembroke Power Station in Wales.
Since the initial Power Station installations, the application of the AFD systems has expanded, and systems have been installed in flood defence pumping stations, drinking water intakes and irrigation schemes, as well as other industrial sites such as paper mills and LNG plants. More recently the systems have been made ‘mobile’, so they can be deployed around piling and blasting projects to protect the fish from being killed.
Since the first system was developed the technology was incorporated into the patented BAFF (BioAcoustic Fish Fence), which was awarded a Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2001. The BAFF injects sound into a bubble curtain, creating a wall of sound that can be used to guide fish away from the entrance to a hydroelectric power station. Following a number of smaller trials, a full-scale BAFF system was installed last year by USFWS at Barkley Lock and Dam in Kentucky to evaluate the system as a barrier to Asian carp migration through the Mississippi basin, with the objective that the BAFF is installed at a number of locations to reduce the spread of the carp and prevent them reaching the Great Lakes.
What has been the response to the product?
Environmental technology is a sector that is growing massively. The world is now waking up the effects that the human race is having on the world. And although some still see it as being a cost to themselves, many are now embracing the benefits to the environment and the wider community.
Our systems are part of the global environmental solution. We have systems that have been installed for 25 years at Doel nuclear plant, right through to a recent mobile system we supplied, during the pandemic, for a piling project. Piles that were taking more than a day to install due to continual delays to protect the fish suddenly only took a couple of hours to install.and the environment was being protected.
We are currently working very closely with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. We will be starting projects in other parts of the United States very soon.
Working in the United States has provided us with lots of opportunities for innovation. We have utilised diagnostics and monitoring control systems to help us and our clients monitor and operate the systems remotely, which reduces our impact on the world by not having to use air travel as often.
What’s next on the horizon?
We have a number of major projects on the go at the moment. The system in Kentucky is based on our BioAcoustic Fish Fence technology (BAFF)- which combines bubbles and sound to deter fish from entering an area of the lake and is due to run for the next three years. This project allows us to innovate as we go by optimising the system so it is as effective as possible under every different condition, including the varying water levels and when barge traffic passes through the system and lock. The initial results should be available early next year, and this will be fed into a number of current assessments where authorities in the states are determining our system’s suitability for installation at a number of possible sites in Tennessee.
The previous BAFF system installed at Georgiana Slough in California for the State’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) has just been confirmed as being required on a permanent basis from 2023 to 2030, and we will be working to develop some additional features they want to incorporate into the system over the next 9 months.
Can you recommend any books or podcasts that have inspired you in a particular way?
Most of the things I am reading at the moment are scientific studies or environmental reports. The industry moves so fast, you need to ensure that you are always at the forefront of both science and technology. I do enjoy the Work-Life podcasts by Adam Grant, as they provide a really useful insight into why people act the way they do at work, and how we can try to improve the working environment for everyone in the company.
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