Since February 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite Envisat is playing a key role in the conservation of Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) by locating and tracking vessels that illegally target this scarce resource in the Antarctic Ocean.
The satellite has become a watchdog, monitoring the frigid waters, especially in the vicinity of the French Kerguelen Islands to impede illegal vessels from fishing Patagonian toothfish -or deep-sea cod-, a species protected by all international agreements.
ESA sources claim that, so far, the Envisat has enabled a 90% reduction in the number of illegal vessels prowling the Kerguelen waters, an area also known as the Antarctic French Territory.
The satellite's radars can detect the presence of vessels in daylight, at night and through all meteorological conditions, due to the metallic nature of hull construction.
Once the satellite has taken photographs of a vessel, it transmits them immediately to the Kerguelen Islands-based station, so that French authorities can determine whether or not the vessel is illegal or unauthorised.
Vessels authorised to fish in the area are equipped with a transmitter that sends information on its position to the satellite, so that they can be identified at all times. However, if the Envisat detects a vessel without a transmitter, authorities order a French Army patrol vessel to approach and seize it.
The first illegal fishing vessel to be intercepted was the Honduran-flagged Apache, which had 60 tonnes of Patagonian toothfish onboard, reported ESA.
The French Government has exclusive fishing rights for toothfish in its territorial waters, which extend for 360 kilometers around the Kerguelend, Crozet, and St. Paul Amsterdam Islands, in the proximity of Reunion Island -capital of the Antarctic French Territory.
Experts estimate that in some sectors of the Antarctic Ocean, Patagonian toothfish could be completely depleted within five years. (FIS/MP).