On December 23, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a biological opinion on the effects of the groundfish fisheries off Alaska on seabird species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The biological opinion, which documents the consultation process required by section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, concludes that the groundfish fisheries authorized by the Fishery Management Plans for groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area and the State of Alaska parallel groundfish fisheries, are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of endangered Short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). The biological opinion also concludes that these fisheries are not likely to adversely affect threatened Steller’s eider (Polysticta stelleri), or result in adverse modification of Steller's eider critical habitat. The biological opinion is available on the USFWS website.
The USFWS anticipates that up to six short-tailed albatross could be reported to be taken every two years incidental to the groundfish fisheries off Alaska. This incidental take limit is in addition to the take limit established in 1998 for the Pacific halibut hook-and-line fishery off Alaska—two short-tailed albatrosses in a two year period. If the level of anticipated take is exceeded in the fisheries, NMFS must reinitiate a consultation with the USFWS to ensure the fisheries are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of short-tailed albatross. NMFS reminds fishermen using hook-and-line gear that seabird avoidance measures are required by regulation.
When a short-tailed albatross is observed following a fishing vessel, every effort should be made to minimize the possibility of the bird becoming entangled with the gear. NMFS requests that you do the following:
- Change the vessel's heading or speed, to discourage the bird from following.
- If no sets are in progress: (1) avoid initiating a set while the bird is in sight and (2) avoid offal discharge in the presence of short-tailed albatross to discourage their association with the fishing vessel.
- If a short-tailed albatross appears to be attacking baited hooks despite the use of required bird avoidance mechanisms, gear should be deployed without bait, or gear deployment should be suspended, until the albatross discontinues attacks on the gear.
- NMFS requests that fishermen continue to report all observations of short-tailed albatross to the USFWS via their reporting form.