Reduction of live fish testing through science and technology

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A research project financed by the financed by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research) under project number 031L0152A, “Alternativmethoden zum Tierversuch”, beginning March 2019.

RETERO – Reduction of animal testing to establish risk of injury on fish caused by turbine passage through the use of robotic surrogates, computational fluid mechanics and predictive modeling

Hydropower, the oldest form of renewable energy, is still being developed in Germany and across the globe, and provides for approximately 17% of the world electrical power production. For historical reasons, there exists innumerable sites hosting hydraulic installations which interrupt fish migration corridors.

In order to create new, fish- friendly technologies, and in order to monitor the regulatory compliance of new and existing hydropower facilities with respect to fish injury and mortality, animal testing using live fish, most captured in the wild, is currently unavoidable.

The objective of the project is to reduce the use of live fish experiments in the evaluation of injuries caused by passage through turbines and other descent corridors in installations. This is done by complementing (and in the longer term replacing) those experiments with partly-autonomous robotic systems and numerical simulations:

  • Electronic fish surrogates will be outfitted with custom pressure and inertial sensors to evaluate and establish physical thresholds of hydropower-induced damage and mortality caused by the downstream passage through turbines and hydraulic structures.
  • Measurement data from the robotic fish will be combined with a numerical model which will provide finely-resolved information about the flow combined with a fish behavior model.

This work involves cross-disciplinary collaboration to combine the required skills in biology, ethohydraulics, hydraulic engineering, fluid mechanics, microelectronic engineering and information technology.

Spatial-temporal movement patterns of a European grayling (Thymallus thymallus) measured downstream of migration barrier (Fish pass entrance indicated by a vertical line) by SJE Ecohydraulic Engineering GmbH
Infrastructure used for etohydraulic research at the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Technical Hydromechanics (IWD), Technische Universität Dresden. Control of multiple hydraulic parameters has already allowed the investigation of fish passability in a vortex power plant, in cooperation with the Institute for Water Systems Ecology and Fish Biology Jena (IGF)
Field work with aquatic fauna, Institute for Aquatic Ecology and Fish Biology Jena (IGF)

Within the framework of the RETERO project, a new type of surrogate method will be developed, tested and validated to remove the necessity to perform live fish experiments in studies of downstream passage. With its planned integration in the existing German guidelines from the DWA-Workgroup 8.2 “Monitoring of up- and downstream fish migration structures”, this newly- developed method could significantly reduce the number of fish used in live tests, down from the current number which stands at 460,000 per year. The long-term objective is to forego live fish testing entirely.