Volcanic Eruption on Torishima Island, Japan site of breeding colony of the Endangered Short-Tailed Albatross

August 15, 2002 - 2:10 p.m.

Notice of a fishery management action.

On August 11, operators of a vessel sailing near Torishima Island reported to the Japan Coast Guard that they witnessed white smoke rising from the summit of the volcanic island, according to James W. Balsiger, Administrator, Alaska Region, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Japan Coast Guard has confirmed the eruption and continues to monitor the volcanic activity. Torishima Island is approximately 600 km south of Tokyo (30 28'48"N, 140 18'22"E) and is the site of the main breeding colony of the endangered short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus).

The current world population of this endangered species is estimated at approximately 1,680 individuals, according to Dr. Hiroshi Hasegawa, of Toho University in Chiba, Japan. Dr. Hasegawa is the world's foremost expert on this rare albatross species and recently returned from his 80th visit to Torishima in May 2002. He has estimated that about 1,415 birds are at the main breeding colony on Torishima and about 260 birds at a smaller colony on the Senkaku Islands. On learning about the Torishima eruption, Dr. Hasegawa was relieved that the albatrosses were away from the island. Their time on the island is limited to the annual breeding season which occurs from October through May. Dr. Hasegawa is confident that the Torishima population can survive by spending their life at sea until the unpredictable volcanic activities cool off and allow the birds to revisit their main breeding site.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a Biological Opinion on the effects of the Alaska longline groundfish fishery on the short-tailed albatross in 1999. That Opinion addresses direct, indirect, human-caused, and non-human caused effects, including natural catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions. The Opinion states that "given the range of possible types and magnitudes of volcanic eruptions, and the historical pattern of eruptions on Torishima Island, a volcanic eruption of sufficient magnitude and impacts to cause the species to drop below the jeopardy threshold, is not reasonably certain to occur....However, in the event of a major population decline as a result of a natural environmental catastrophe...the effects of longline fisheries on short-tailed albatrosses could be serious. Such an event would represent new information and stimulate reinitiation of this consultation." NMFS and FWS are already undergoing a section 7 consultation, thus any new opinion would continue to reference potential impacts to the short-tailed albatross population and would be updated with information regarding this recent volcanic activity.

NMFS reminds fishermen that seabird avoidance measures are required on most longline vessels fishing for groundfish or halibut off Alaska. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has recommended changes to the existing regulations to include scientifically-proven methods that can reduce the incidental catch of seabirds by 88 to 100%. Although the new regulations are pending, NMFS encourages fishermen to begin using these new methods.

FWS and NMFS will continue to closely monitor the situation on Torishima Island and comply with requirements of the Endangered Species Act to protect this endangered seabird.

For further information contact Kim Rivera, NMFS's Seabird Coordinator, (907) 586-7424.

Last updated by Alaska Regional Office on February 11, 2019