NZ-French technology helps keep track of illegal trawlers

Trawlers fishing illegally in the Southern Ocean are more likely to be caught now, thanks to small beacons being attached to albatrosses flying in the area.

Often vessels fishing illegally switch off their automatic identification system to avoid detection, but they cannot navigate safely without emitting low-level radar signals, which the transceivers on the birds can detect.

The beacons were developed by New Zealand and French scientists, including Doctor Dominique Filippi, who is based in Wellington.

He said more than 100 of the devices are being used by French scientists in the Indian Ocean and New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries also had 25 of them attached to antipodean albatrosses.

"The device attaches to the back of the albatross heel and it measures radar signals emitted by fishing boats.

"On fishing boats they use radar to avoid collision and so it picks up the signal and there is also a GPS, which measures the position of the bird and it transmits all that information through satellites to the scientists who study [them]."

Doctor Filipopi said the United Kingdom was also interested in the devices and would like to use them to reduce seabird bycatch in their territories and they may also be used on northern albatrosses in Hawaii.

An estimated 300,000 seabirds are killed annually through accidental encounters with fishing vessels.