Alaska longline fleet takes first short-tailed albatross in 12 years

September 16, 2010 -- The Freezer Longline Coalition (FLC) has received confirmation that two short-tailed albatross have been incidentally taken by longline vessels fishing in Alaska. The first was taken by a longline vessel fishing in the Bering Sea on August 27th 2010; a second bird was confirmed this morning as a short-tailed albatross taken on September 14th 2010 also in the Bering Sea fishery. FLC executive director Kenny Down responded in a statement to his board of directors, “After twelve years with no takes this has come as especially bad news. A perfect record for twelve years has been viewed by all concerned as remarkable and we were hopeful this day would never come.” 

The FLC fleet of vessels was the leader in implementing avoidance measures that resulted in reducing all bird bycatch by nearly 80%. These vessels voluntarily implemented measures in nearly two years before governmental regulations mandated them.  The fleet has also been the leader in pursuing funding for the short-tailed albatross recovery plan and the numbers of birds are on the increase as a result.

In a statement issued by FLC president David Little he reiterated the fleet’s commitment to protect the short-tailed albatross and all seabirds.  “Efforts at eliminating these incidental takes are being reviewed by every Freezer Longline Coalition vessel and known effective measures reducing these takes are always in effect on the vessels.  We are consulting with bird avoidance experts to identify any additional measures that can be put in place.”

The short-tailed albatross is a listed species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As such, incidental takes in the longline fishery are regulated and limits are set. The limit set under the current ESA biological opinion is four birds in a two year cycle. If that level is exceeded, it automatically initiates an ESA Section 7 Consultation, which involves a consultation between the US Fish and Game Department and the National Marine Fisheries Service. New regulations and further avoidance measures could be placed on the fishery.

Reaction from experts in the field have been supportive of the Freezer Longline Coalitions efforts to date and continued commitment to proven practices.

Shannon Fitzgerald, with National Marine Fisheries Service and Seabird Biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center reacted with the following statement. “The Alaskan cod freezer longliner fleet has been one of the most proactive fleets anywhere in the world in trying to reduce their bycatch of seabirds.  They have been especially concerned with trying to eliminate the bycatch of short-tailed albatross.  Given the high levels of observer coverage on these vessels, they should be commended for going 12 years without an observed take and for the nearly 80% reduction overall in seabird bycatch.  Their history of collaboration and taking the lead in seabird bycatch reduction is a model for other fisheries.  Early on, they stepped up and asked for mitigation gear to be required, were an integral component of the research led by Washington Sea Grant on streamer lines, voluntarily started using streamer lines two years before regulations required their use, and have worked throughout it all to take advantage of inseason data produced by the Observer Program to monitor individual vessel performance.  Their efforts continue as we are currently working with the Freezer Longline Coalition to develop programs to further reduce seabird bycatch by its vessels.”

In another expert statement in reaction to the news, Ed Melvin, the Washington Sea Grant scientist whose research led to the current seabird bycatch mitigation requirements in Alaska longline fisheries had the following to say. "The performance of the freezer-longline vessels fishing for cod has been exemplary over the last decade.” “These recent mortalities of short-tailed albatross in the Bering Sea are very unfortunate," added Melvin, who is also a member of the short-tailed albatross recovery team. "But I am sure that the industry will explore fully what led to these incidents and improve its seabird conservation efforts."

For more information regarding the Freezer Longline Coalition, please contact the Freezer Longline Coalition office at 206-284-2522 or send inquiries to kennydown@comcast.net

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