NOAA Fisheries reports the incidental take of an endangered short-tailed albatross (STAL) in the hook-and-line groundfish fishery of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Management Area (BSAI). The bird was taken on December 16, 2014 at 56°57”06’ N and 168°24”30’ W in NOAA Fisheries reporting area 513 (see Figure 1). The STAL take was not reported to the NMFS observer on the vessel, nor was the bird retained by the vessel crew. The bird was later identified by NMFS as a STAL with the assistance of seabird experts who reviewed video of the bird taken onboard the vessel. The last two documented STAL takes in Alaska were in September 2014.
The world population of the endangered short-tailed albatross is currently estimated at almost 4,400 individuals. The short-tailed albatross is protected in Alaska waters by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a result of consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the ESA, USFWS issued an incidental take statement of four birds during each two-year period for the BSAI and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) hook-and-line groundfish fisheries. In instances where the amount or extent of incidental take is exceeded, reinitiation of formal ESA consultation is required. This is the third take in the two-year period that began on September 16, 2013. To-date, the incidental take levels have not been reached during the current or any previous Biological Opinions.
The NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office, NOAA Fisheries North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program, and the USFWS are actively coordinating efforts and communicating with each other in response to this take incident and are complying to the fullest extent with ESA requirements to protect this species. NOAA Fisheries is also working closely with the freezer longline fleet in which the bird was taken, to evaluate what additional actions can be taken by the fleet to avoid further takes.
To assist in this coordinated effort, NOAA Fisheries reminds operators of hook-and-line vessels in the BSAI and GOA that they are required to employ multiple seabird avoidance measures. “Hook-and-line vessel operators should use great caution when fishing in these areas when short-tailed albatross are present,” said Jim Balsiger, Regional Administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries.
NMFS encourages vessel operators to consider not deploying gear amidst congregations of endangered birds; if possible, move on to a location where you don’t see the short-tailed albatross. Ed Melvin, a seabird mitigation gear researcher and specialist from Washington Sea Grant, reiterated that in order to keep birds from baited hooks in windy conditions that the streamer line on the windward side should be maintained to windward of the groundline and with a minimum of 200 feet of the line with streamers in the air. This configuration can be achieved by maintaining sufficient drag using a skid buoy with a 10-pound weight fixed at the nose of the buoy. It is this aerial extent of the streamer line with streamers attached that scares birds. The use of round buoys for this purpose should be avoided, as their position astern can be erratic. Also, individual streamers should be long enough to extend to the water. Given that all vessels are different, he recommends that each vessel purchase extra tubing to adjust streamer length as necessary and to make repairs if streamers are damaged. Each crew should have one person in the setting crew responsible for bird avoidance. Additionally, when short-tailed albatross are around the vessel, an additional crew member at the roller may be helpful.
NOAA Fisheries also reminds vessel operators that when an observer is on-board, any short-tailed albatross caught by hook-and-line gear be retained and reported immediately to the NOAA Fisheries observer.
Detailed information on seabird avoidance measures is available on the Seabird Avoidance Gear and Methods web page.
This information bulletin provides information about regulations at 50 CFR 679.24(e) and 679.51(e)(1)(viii)(F).