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Resource Ecology & Ecosystem Modeling Program

Seabird Bycatch Estimates for Alaskan Groundfish Fisheries, 1993-2012 (pg. 2)

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Of special concern is the endangered Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). A biological opinion was published for the groundfish longline fishery in September  2003, which identified an expected, observed incidental take level of 4 Short-tailed Albatross in each 2-year period.  Between 2003 and 2012, only two Short-tails were incidentally taken in 2010 and one bird was taken in 2011.  Based on these two incidents, the projected  takes  were 15 and 5 birds, respectively.  (No takes were reported in 2013.)

The longline fleet has traditionally been responsible for about 91% of the overall seabird bycatch in Alaska, as determined from the data sources noted above. However, standard fisheries observer sampling methods on trawl vessels do not account for additional mortalities from net entanglements, cable strikes, and other sources. Thus, the trawl estimates are biased low. For example, the 2010 estimate of trawl-related seabird mortality is 823, while the additional observed mortalities (not included in this estimate and not expanded to the fleet) were 112.  Fisheries observers now record the additional mortalities they see on trawl vessels and the AFSC Seabird Program is seeking funds to support an analyst to work on how these additional numbers can be folded into an overall estimate. The challenge to further reduce seabird bycatch is great given the rare nature of the event. For example, in an analysis of 35,270 longline sets from 2004 to 2007, the most predominant species, Northern Fulmar, only occurred in 2.5% of all sets.  Albatross, a focal species for conservation efforts, occurred in less than 0.1% of sets.  However, given the vast size of the fishery, the total estimated bycatch can add up to hundreds of Albatross or thousands of Fulmars (Table 1).

The AFSC remains committed to work with the fishing industry, Washington Sea Grant, and others to meet the challenges of further reducing seabird bycatch. Seabird mitigation gear used on longline vessels can substantially reduce bycatch. Individual vessel performance varies, and further reduction of overall fleet averages may depend on targeted improved performance for a handful of vessels within the fleet. Additional methods, such as integrated weight longline gear, have been researched and shown to be effective. Continued collaboration with the longline industry will be important. Albatross bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska is generally higher than in other regions. With observer program restructuring and the deployment plan recommended by NMFS and approved by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, we will have a better sense of albatross bycatch issues within GOA-fisheries.

By Shannon Fitzgerald

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