Short-tailed Albatross Death on Longline Hook Underscores Need for Revamped Alaskan Fisheries Observer Program

For Immediate Release Contact:
, American Bird Conservancy, 202-234-7181 ext. 210

Short-tailed Albatross. Photo: USFWS

Short-tailed Albatross. Photo: USFWS

(Washington, D.C., September 14, 2010) Federal officials have just recorded the first bycatch death of an endangered Short-tailed Albatross by a U.S. fishing vessel in Alaskan waters since 1998.

The Short-tailed Albatross is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Like many other albatrosses, it is threatened by being caught on longline fishing hooks. This recent event is a reminder of the need for continued vigilance to protect this species and has prompted calls from American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation group, for swift implementation of improvements to the fisheries observer program in Alaska. This program places official federal observers on fishing vessels to monitor mortality of albatrosses and other wildlife.

In October, the Northern Pacific Fishery Management Council (one of eight regional councils established to oversee management of the nation's fisheries) will consider a restructuring of the observer program that would vastly improve observer data, and extend coverage to the commercial halibut fleet and groundfish vessels that are less than sixty feet in length, both of which are currently exempt from the need to carry observers.

“The Alaskan fisheries have made great strides in avoiding seabird bycatch and we commend their efforts to date. However, this incident highlights the need to move forward with an improved fisheries observer program. The current proposal for restructuring would fill serious gaps in coverage and greatly improve the quality of information about bycatch,” said Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, Director of the Seabird Program for ABC.

“While this Short-tailed Albatross death is the first recorded in Alaska since 1998, I have little doubt that additional mortality has occurred during this time period in unobserved fisheries throughout this species’ range, which encompasses much of the northern pacific, and crosses many international boundaries, ” said Dr. Rob Suryan, Leader of the Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team.

The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program was implemented on the domestic fishing fleet in Alaska in early 1990 in response to the critical need for independent information on a variety of taxa that are affected by fishing, including the Short-tailed Albatross. Since its inception, fisheries managers have developed mitigation strategies that have reduced the number of all albatrosses (including Laysan, Black-footed, and Short-tailed) killed by commercial fishing boats from over 1,000 in 1993 to fewer than 150 in 2004. However, those estimates are based only on the subset of boats that has observers.

Under the restructured observer program, the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would contract directly with observer companies and deploy observers according to an improved sample design. The design of the new program would reduce sources of bias that jeopardize the statistical reliability of catch and bycatch data.

The albatross killed in the Bering Sea wore a metal leg band identifying it as a 7 ½ year old bird from Torishima Island in Japan, where the majority of Short-tailed Albatrosses breed.

The Short-tailed Albatross was once the most abundant of the North Pacific albatross species, numbering more than a million birds. It was decimated by feather hunting at the turn of the 20th Century, and by the late 1940s was thought to be extinct. In the early 1950s, ten pairs were discovered breeding on Torishima, and the population has now reached 3,000 individuals. For the last five years, the Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team, an international group of collaborators, have been working on establishing a colony that is safe from volcanic activity and other problems.






American Bird Conservancy ( conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity of the bird conservation movement. ABC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.

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