Enlisting feathered friends to figh… – Information Centre – Research & Innovation

Illegal fishing destroys maritime habitats and threatens species living at sea. An EU-funded challenge is supporting authorities to crack down on these operations by developing the world’s to start with seabird ocean-surveillance system.


© Weimerskirch, 2016

The world’s oceans protect far more than 350 million square kilometres of the earth’s floor. In their most distant areas lurk an mysterious amount of ‘dark vessels’ – fishing boats that have turned off their transponders so that they can carry out illegal fishing undetected.

This follow is a main risk to the maritime surroundings. Illegal fisheries deplete fish stocks, dramatically influencing local economies and maritime habitats. Unregulated boats normally use illegal lengthy-line fishing procedures which endanger dolphins, seabirds and other animals that turn out to be entangled in the strains.

Authorities have struggled to control illegal fishing mainly because it is tough to detect boats operating with no permission. To satisfy this challenge, researchers in the EU’s OCEAN SENTINEL challenge, funded by the European Research Council, have produced the world’s to start with ocean-surveillance system by enlisting the support of an unlikely ally: the albatross.

When albatrosses search for meals, they embark on foraging visits that can last up to fifteen days and protect hundreds of miles. By efficiently developing a information-logger smaller plenty of to be hooked up to the birds, the challenge crew was capable to convert these journeys into illegal fishing patrols. Although the albatrosses foraged for meals, their 10-cm lengthy information-loggers simultaneously scanned the ocean, using radar detection to recognize boats and transmit their place again to analysts in genuine-time.

‘A system using animals as surveillance at sea has by no means been established ahead of but we have been capable to use the birds to identify and instantly inform authorities about the place of vessels, and to distinguish in between lawful and illegal fishing boats,’ says principal investigator Henri Weimerskirch of the French Countrywide Centre for Scientific Research.

‘We had been proud we could perform with the albatross mainly because they are the loved ones of birds most threatened by illegal fishing,’ he provides. The curious birds can turn out to be caught in illegal strains when they swoop down to investigate the fishing boats and their baits.

Surveillance for data

Throughout the challenge, Weimerskirch and his colleagues visited albatross breeding grounds on French island territories in the Southern Indian Ocean. Here, they hooked up information-loggers to 169 albatrosses to keep track of the birds as they flew out to sea to find meals.

As the albatross foraged, they recorded radar blips from 353 vessels. Nevertheless, only 253 of the boats had been broadcasting their identification, situation and velocity to the pertinent authority, top the crew to conclude that the remaining 100 ships (37 {bcdc0d62f3e776dc94790ed5d1b431758068d4852e7f370e2bcf45b6c3b9404d}) had been a mix of illegal and unreported vessels.

‘This is the to start with time the extent of illegal and unreported fisheries has been estimated by an unbiased technique,’ says Weimerskirch. ‘This details is crucial for the administration of maritime assets and the engineering we produced is currently being applied by the authorities to enhance administration in these wide, tough to regulate regions.’

An army of animals

The project’s accomplishment has inspired other countries, like New Zealand and South Ga – a British isles territory – to use OCEAN SENTINEL information-loggers to spot illegal fishing in their personal waters. South Africa and Hawaii are also thinking about deploying the engineering in the near foreseeable future.

Researchers are also working to adapt the information-logger so that it can be hooked up to other animals, these kinds of as sea turtles, which are also under risk from illegal lengthy-line fishing.

As animals are turned into undercover surveillance devices developed to spot illegal boats, they are equipping individuals with the awareness they need to have to overcome this challenge successfully. ‘I hope our engineering, alongside other initiatives, spells the beginning of the conclusion for these illegal vessels,’ concludes Weimerskirch.