HURON, Ohio (WJW) — Lake Erie is well known for being the home of top-quality fishing. To ensure that reputation holds true for decades to come, the United States Geological Survey is using autonomous watercraft and underwater vehicles to improve fish surveys across the entire lake.

The Saildrone Explorer will be doing most of the work, starting in the Western Basin.

“It’s bright orange. It’s really hard to miss. You can see it from quite a distance away,” USGS Fisheries Biologist Mark DuFour said. “There’s no crew on it.”

DuFour said the drone technology has already helped survey lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. The biggest benefit is that it is much quieter than traditional research vessels.

The Saildrone Explorer launched on July 14 from Erie, Pennsylvania, and began the survey on Aug. 1. The study will conclude on Sept. 26.

There’s also a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle (LRAUV) nicknames “Tethys” that will be deployed near Fairport Harbor in mid-September.

“It just gives us another tool to use to kind of fill in the gaps that we might not be able to collect using traditional methods,” DuFour said.

The autonomous vehicles will study the effects of harmful algal blooms on yellow perch in the Western Basin, focus on the detection of large fish species in the Eastern Basin and will study the effects of low oxygen zones for bottom-dwelling fish in the Central Basin.

“Those types of conditions have the potential to move fish populations on-shore, off-shore or in and out of the Western Basin,” DuFour said. So, we’re just curious on how those distributions might relate to the success of fishing — commercial or recreational fishing.”

So, if you see one of these drone boats at work, do not be alarmed.

“Don’t be scared of them. They’re harmless,” he said. “They’ll be moving into the central basin over the next week or so. We do ask folks to keep a 1,500-foot distance just so we can ensure the mission can be completed as scheduled.”