Albatrosses fitted with tracking devices are helping to crack down on illegal fishing
Posted January 28, 2020 2:23 p.m. EST
Updated January 28, 2020 2:33 p.m. EST
CNN — People fishing illegally in the world's oceans may soon need to watch out for more than patrol boats, after scientists tested how effective albatrosses were in tracking fishing vessels.
In a six-month trial, researchers attached portable data logging devices to 169 of the giant sea birds and then tracked them. Albatrosses were chosen because of their attraction to fishing vessels and their ability to cover vast areas of ocean.
Researchers from France, New Zealand and the UK said that illegal and undeclared ocean fisheries damage ecosystems by overexploiting fish stocks and catching threatened species.
"Innovative ways to monitor the oceans are urgently required," the study state. The study was published Monday in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research was carried out in the southern Indian Ocean, extending between South Africa and New Zealand.
Some of the sites included in the trial were the Crozet, Kerguelen and Amsterdam islands, where extensive and valuable fisheries operate, according to the study.
The traditional method of identifying illegal fisheries is "complex and inadequate," researchers said, adding that locating the fisheries is "persistently problematic."
Information about fishing vessel location -- particularly in real time -- is very difficult to obtain, the study states.
Locations are made available to authorities or international fisheries organizations through voluntary declaration using Vessel Monitoring Systems or indirectly through the use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), the researchers added, but those systems can be turned off.
Now, researchers have developed the "Ocean Sentinel" method whereby animals equipped with loggers are used to monitor fisheries in remote areas. The method means illegal fisheries can be detected and intercepted in real time, researchers said.
The team fitted foraging albatrosses with loggers which detected the presence of vessels and immediately transmitted the information to the authorities.
The Ocean Sentinel loggers used an Argos system, a GPS and a miniature radar detector.
More than one-third of the boats detected by the trackers had no AIS in international waters, the study said.
The United Nations' cultural and scientific body, UNESCO, estimates that the ocean constitutes more than 90% of the planet's habitable space for marine wildlife.
It further estimates that by 2100, without scientific changes, more than half of the world's marine species could be on the brink of extinction.
Henri Weimerskirch, the study's lead researcher and a research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, said the study can contribute to the conservation effort.
When asked what the main motivation behind the study was, Weimerskirch told CNN: "To have a better knowledge of the location of illegal fishing and the extent of nonreported fishing, but also improve the knowledge of the life history of albatrosses, and ultimately their conservation."
He added that by gathering new information on the extent of illegal fishing, the authorities and public can take more action to combat it.