Seabird Victories in Hawaii

Laysan Albatross by Glen Tepke
Laysan Albatross by Glen Tepke

Not many fisheries can boast such a dramatic turnaround of seabird bycatch as the Hawaiian long liners. As recently as the beginning of this decade, Hawaiian fisheries were responsible for thousands of dead albatrosses each year - more than any other pelagic fishery in the Western Pacific management region. But by 2006, this mortality had been reduced by some 90%.

 

Hawaiian fisheries began to confront the problem of seabird bycatch in 2001 because of the Short-tailed Albatross. Though listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1970, no action was taken until 2000, when it was recognized as a U.S. species. That year, an estimated 2,433 albatrosses were killed in the Hawaiian tuna and swordfish fisheries. Although none of them was a Short-tailed, the U.S. managing agencies were able to use the new legal status of the species to enforce measures to prevent its harm. As is so often the case, the techniques employed for protecting an endangered species helped other species as well, such as the Laysan Albatross pictured above.

 

In October of 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a Biological Opinion on the effects of long lining fisheries on the Short-tailed Albatross. At that time, both Hawaiian and Alaskan long-lining fleets were killing substantial numbers of albatrosses, including Short-tailed albatrosses in Alaska. The population of Short-tailed albatrosses is so tiny that interactions with fisheries are thought to be extremely rare, but because there was ample documentation of other albatross species dying in the long lines, fisheries managers implemented the Biological Opinion. Hawaiian tuna and swordfish fishermen now have to employ mitigation measures such as discarding fish waste into the water away from where hooks are being set, using bird- scaring streamers, and weighting the fishing lines. When these methods were implemented, and their use monitored by on board observers, the annual seabird deaths plummeted. The problem of seabird take by Hawaiian longliners has been greatly reduced, but agencies still monitor the fisheries closely, and produce a comprehensive report on seabird interactions and improved mitigation techniques each year.