Seabird Avoidance Gear and Methods
The presence of "free" food in the form of offal and bait attracts many birds to fishing operations. In past years, more than 20,000 seabirds were hooked annually in groundfish fisheries off Alaska.
Information for Alaska Fishermen
The presence of "free" food in the form of offal and bait attracts many birds to fishing operations. In past years, more than 20,000 seabirds were hooked annually in groundfish fisheries off Alaska. Most birds taken during longline operations are attracted to the baited hooks when the gear is being set. These birds become hooked at the surface, and are then dragged underwater where they drown. Out of the total number of birds hooked, 75 percent are northern fulmars and gulls, although most regulatory and conservation attention is focused on bycatch of the endangered short-tailed albatross. With the use of seabird avoidance measures (e.g. paired and single streamer lines), seabird bycatch has been reduced four-fold.
Who Must Use Seabird Avoidance Measures?
Required to be used by operators of all vessels greater than 26 feet in length overall using hook-and-line gear while fishing for:
- Individual Fishing Quota halibut, Community Development Quota halibut, or IFQ sablefish in the EEZ off Alaska or State of Alaska waters (0 to 200 nm combined); or
- Groundfish in the EEZ off Alaska (3 to 200 nm).
Other than noted above, vessel operators using hook-and-line gear and fishing for groundfish in waters off the state of Alaska must refer to seabird avoidance measures in state regulations. See 5AAC 28.055.
Exemptions from Seabird Avoidance Measures Include Hook-and-Line Vessels:
- Less than 32 feet in length overall in the state waters (0 to 3 nautical miles) of IPHC Area 4E.
- Less than or equal to 55 feet in length overall in IPHC Area 4E but not including waters south of 60°00.00 N. lat. and west of 160°00.00 W. long.
- In state waters (0 to 3 nautical miles) of Cook Inlet.
- In NOAA Fisheries Reporting Area 649 (Prince William Sound).
- In Southeast Alaska – NOAA Fisheries Reporting Area 659, excluding Transition Areas.
- Transition Areas (Seabird avoidance measures are required):
South of a straight line at 56°17.25 N. lat. between Point Harris and Port Armstrong in Chatham Strait,
State statistical areas 325431 and 325401, and
West of a straight line at 136°21.17 E. long. from Point Wimbledon extending south through the Inian Islands to Point Lavinia.
- Transition Areas (Seabird avoidance measures are required):
Diagram of areas exempt from seabird avoidance requirements (PDF, 2 pages).
What Are the Seabird Avoidance Requirements?
- Standards for streamer lines must be used on hook-and-line vessels greater than 26 feet (7.9 meters) fishing in the EEZ (see the next section for the specific standards).
- Vessels greater than 26 feet (7.9 meters) and less than or equal to 55 feet (16.8 meters) may use discretion with seabird avoidance requirements when winds exceed 30 knots (near gale or Beaufort 7 conditions).
What Type of Streamer Line (or "Bird Scaring Line") Must Be Used?
The type of "bird scaring line" you are required to use depends on the area you fish, the length of your vessel, the superstructure of your vessel, and the type of hook-and-line gear you use (e.g. snap gear). See Table 20 and the actual regulations at 50 CFR Part 679.24(e)(2) for specific requirements.
- Larger vessels (greater than 55 feet (16.8 meters) length overall in the EEZ must use paired streamer lines (if not using snap gear) or a single streamer line (if using snap gear) of a specified performance and material standard.
- Diagram for larger vessel using other than snap gear (PDF, 2 pages).
- Diagram for larger vessel using snap gear (PDF, 2 pages).
- Smaller vessels (greater than 26 feet (7.9 meters) length overall and less than or equal to 55 feet length overall] must use a single streamer line or, in limited instances, a buoy bag line. Required performance and material standards are specified for the streamer line.
- 'Off the Hook', How-To Videos by Washington Sea Grant.
How Do Alaska Fishermen Get Streamer Lines?
Fishermen using hook-and-line gear in groundfish and halibut fisheries off Alaska are now providing their own streamer lines*. Commercially available streamer lines for Alaska fisheries can be found through the LFSI, 1-800-647-2135.
*A limited number of free streamer lines are available, please contact Anne Marie Eich for more information.
What Do I Do If I See or I Accidentally Hook a Short-Tailed Albatross?
We continue to be concerned about the endangered short-tailed albatross; the world population is estimated at just under 6,000 birds. We ask that you report all observations of short-tailed albatross to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In the rare event that you accidentally hook a short-tailed albatross, we need to know that, too!
If a short-tailed albatross is injured or sick:
Fisheries observers or—if no observer is on board—boat captains are responsible for carrying out these instructions.
1. Call the Alaska SeaLife Center hotline at 1-888-774-7325 or 907-224-6395.
2. Report to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 1-800-858-7621 or 907-271-2888.
3. Retain live birds in a safe location.
4. Surrender it as soon as possible (alive or dead) as directed by the U.S. FWS.
Reporting a dead short-tailed albatross:
1. Call NOAA Fisheries at 1-800-853-1964 or 907-586-7228, or
2. Call U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 1-800-858-7621 or 907-271-2888.
3. Immediately freeze any dead short-tailed albatross (if freezing is not available, keep it as cold as possible).
4. Label with vessel name, latitude and longitude where hooked, and the numbers and colors of any leg bands (leg bands must be left attached).
Live birds should be released on site if they meet all of the following criteria:
- Bird looks normal.
- Bird is capable of holding its head erect.
- Bird responds to noise and motion stimuli.
- Bird breathes without noise.
- Bird can flap both wings and it can retract the wings to a normal folded position on the back.
- Bird is capable of elevating itself to stand on both feet, with its toes pointed in the proper position (forward).
- Bird is dry.
If criteria for release are not met, contact the Alaska SeaLife Center stranded animal hotline: 1-888-774-7325 or 907-224-6395.
- What to do if you encounter an Endangered short-tailed albatross (PDF, 1 page)
- Threatened and Endangered Bird Species Encounter and Reporting Form (PDF, 1 page)
- How to Identify North Pacific Albatross (PDF, 2 pages)
- Other Alaskan Seabirds (PDF, 6 pages)
What Do I Do If I Accidentally Hook Birds While Hauling Gear and They Come Onboard Alive?
If you hook birds while hauling gear and they come on board alive make every reasonable effort to ensure that they are released alive.
Whenever possible, remove hooks without jeopardizing the life of the bird:
Wrap the bird’s wings and feet with a clean towel to protect its feathers from oils or damage. Protect yourself from the bird’s beak—wear eye protection and heavy gloves.
- If the hook is visible:
Use pliers (or bolt cutters) to cut off the hook or flatten the barb. Pull the hook back out of the bird.
- If the hook is swallowed and removal is not possible:
Cut the line as close to the point of entry as possible and leave the hook in the bird.
- Bycatch Mitigation Fact Sheets - BirdLife International and ACAP
- Incidental Seabird Takes - Fishery Information Bulletins
- Vessel-Strike Mortality of Steller's Eiders and Spectacled Eiders