Illegal fishing destroys marine habitats and threatens species residing at sea. An EU-funded task is helping authorities to crack down on these operations by producing the world’s to start with seabird ocean-surveillance method.

© Weimerskirch, 2016

The world’s oceans deal with extra than 350 million sq. kilometres of the earth’s floor. In their most remote locations lurk an unidentified amount of ‘dark vessels’ – fishing boats that have turned off their transponders so that they can carry out illegal fishing undetected.

This observe is a important threat to the marine surroundings. Illegal fisheries deplete fish shares, drastically affecting nearby economies and marine habitats. Unregulated boats usually use illegal prolonged-line fishing tactics which endanger dolphins, seabirds and other animals that turn out to be entangled in the traces.

Authorities have struggled to control illegal fishing since it is difficult to detect boats working devoid of authorization. To satisfy this challenge, researchers in the EU’s OCEAN SENTINEL task, funded by the European Exploration Council, have produced the world’s to start with ocean-surveillance method by enlisting the aid of an unlikely ally: the albatross.

When albatrosses lookup for foodstuff, they embark on foraging trips that can previous up to fifteen times and deal with countless numbers of miles. By productively producing a data-logger little sufficient to be hooked up to the birds, the task workforce was capable to convert these journeys into illegal fishing patrols. While the albatrosses foraged for foodstuff, their 10-cm prolonged data-loggers concurrently scanned the ocean, applying radar detection to recognize boats and transmit their location back to analysts in authentic-time.

‘A method applying animals as surveillance at sea has hardly ever been created right before but we have been capable to use the birds to identify and promptly advise authorities about the location of vessels, and to distinguish involving lawful and illegal fishing boats,’ states principal investigator Henri Weimerskirch of the French National Centre for Scientific Exploration.

‘We were being very pleased we could do the job with the albatross since they are the family of birds most threatened by illegal fishing,’ he provides. The curious birds can turn out to be caught in illegal traces when they swoop down to investigate the fishing boats and their baits.

Surveillance for statistics

In the course of the task, Weimerskirch and his colleagues visited albatross breeding grounds on French island territories in the Southern Indian Ocean. In this article, they hooked up data-loggers to 169 albatrosses to observe the birds as they flew out to sea to find foodstuff.

As the albatross foraged, they recorded radar blips from 353 vessels. Nevertheless, only 253 of the boats were being broadcasting their id, place and speed to the pertinent authority, major the workforce to conclude that the remaining a hundred ships (37 %) were being a blend of illegal and unreported vessels.

‘This is the to start with time the extent of illegal and unreported fisheries has been approximated by an unbiased approach,’ states Weimerskirch. ‘This information and facts is essential for the management of marine assets and the technological know-how we produced is currently remaining utilized by the authorities to improve management in these vast, difficult to deal with regions.’

An military of animals

The project’s results has encouraged other international locations, which includes New Zealand and South Georgia – a Uk territory – to use OCEAN SENTINEL data-loggers to place illegal fishing in their own waters. South Africa and Hawaii are also contemplating deploying the technological know-how in the close to potential.

Scientists are also doing work to adapt the data-logger so that it can be hooked up to other animals, these types of as sea turtles, which are also less than threat from illegal prolonged-line fishing.

As animals are turned into undercover surveillance programs intended to place illegal boats, they are equipping people with the information they want to combat this challenge proficiently. ‘I hope our technological know-how, together with other attempts, spells the beginning of the stop for these illegal vessels,’ concludes Weimerskirch.