You might have caught the news that a commercial vessel fishing for cod in the Bering Sea recently took an endangered short-tailed albatross as bycatch.
You might also know that killing even one of these great gliders is a serious threat to the fishery. Now comes word from a trade association, the Freezer Longline Coalition, that two albatross have been caught.
The group wants to make sure people understand the fleet's sterling record on avoiding the birds. Hence, this press release:
Sept. 15, 2010
Alaska longline fleet takes first short-tailed albatross in 12 years
SEATTLE — The Freezer Longline Coalition has received confirmation that two short-tailed albatross have been incidentally taken by longline vessels fishing in Alaska.
The first was taken Aug. 27 by a longliner fishing in the Bering Sea. A second bird, confirmed this morning as a short-tailed albatross, was taken on Sept. 14, also in the Bering Sea fishery.
FLC Executive Director Kenny Down responded in a statement to his board of directors:
"After 12 years with no takes this has come as especially bad news. A perfect record for 12 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 percent.
These vessels voluntarily implemented measures 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.
FLC President David Little 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," he said. "Known effective measures reducing these takes are always in effect on the vessels, and we are consulting with bird avoidance experts to identify any additional measures that can be put in place."
The short-tailed albatross is listed under the Endangered Species Act. As such, incidental takes in the longline fishery are regulated and limits are set. The limit 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 involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. New regulations and further avoidance measures could be placed on the fishery.
Reaction from experts in the field has been supportive of the Freezer Longline Coalition's efforts to date and continued commitment to proven practices.
"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," said Shannon Fitzgerald, seabird biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. "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 percent 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 in-season 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."
"The performance of the freezer longline vessels fishing for cod has been exemplary over the last decade," said Ed Melvin, the Washington Sea Grant scientist whose research led to the current seabird bycatch mitigation requirements in Alaska longline fisheries.
"These recent mortalities of short-tailed albatross in the Bering Sea are very unfortunate," added Melvin, 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."