Seabird Bycatch Estimates for Alaska Groundfish Fisheries: 2018

May 01, 2019

The focus of this report is to add and describe seabird bycatch data for 2018. This report presents bycatch estimates from the following gear types: demersal longline, pelagic trawl, non-pelagic trawl, and pot.

NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/AKR-20, 41 p. doi:10.25923/hqft-we56.

Seabirds are unintentionally caught in commercial fisheries and this unintentional catch is referred to as bycatch.  Federal law in the US requires bycatch be minimized to the extent practicable, and specific modifications to fishing gear and practices are required by Federal regulation to reduce seabird bycatch.  Off Alaska, most seabird bycatch has historically occurred in fisheries using demersal longline (i.e., hook-and-line) gear.  Since 2004, seabird bycatch has decreased in fisheries using demersal longline gear off Alaska as a result of good compliance with seabird avoidance regulations (Melvin et al. 2019).  While the occurrence of seabird bycatch is now relatively rare given the level of commercial fishing effort off Alaska each year (average of 0.019 birds per 1000 hooks from 2002 through 2015; Melvin et al. 2019),  bycatch of seabirds does occur and remains an issue in the Federal fisheries off Alaska.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) annually updates estimates of seabirds caught as bycatch in commercial groundfish and halibut fisheries operating in Federal waters off Alaska.  This annual report details seabird bycatch estimates by gear type for the years 2010 through 2018 and supplements the “Seabird Bycatch and Mitigation Efforts in Alaska Fisheries Summary Report: 2007 through 2015” (Eich et al. 2016),  which has been supplemented previously with data through 2017 (Eich et al. 2018).  The focus of this report is to add and describe seabird bycatch data for 2018.  This report presents bycatch estimates from the following gear types: demersal longline, pelagic trawl, non-pelagic trawl, and pot1.  

Albatross are a focal seabird species group for conservation efforts (for more information, see Eich et al. 2016).  Short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  On rare occasion, the fisheries using demersal longline gear off Alaska incidentally catch short-tailed albatross.  In 2018, NOAA Fisheries monitored bycatch of short-tailed albatross to assess compliance with the incidental take limit established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in its 2015 biological opinion on the effects of the groundfish fisheries of Alaska on endangered short-tailed albatross (USFWS 2015).  USFWS anticipated up to six short-tailed albatross could be reported taken bi-annually (every 2 years) as a result of groundfish fishing activities using demersal longline or trawl gear in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) fishery management plan (FMP) areas(Figure 1).  

In addition to the endangered short-tailed albatross, two other species of albatross forage in waters off Alaska, Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis) and black-footed (Phoebastria nigripes) albatross.  Laysan and black-footed albatross are listed as birds of conservation concern by the USFWS, which means that without additional conservation efforts, they are likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 2008).

In 2016, NOAA Fisheries established a seabird working group to continually review the best available scientific information for methods to reduce bycatch of albatross and other seabirds in the Federal fisheries off Alaska.  This group continues to meet annually to review seabird bycatch data and trends and to provide recommendations on bycatch mitigation strategies to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Last updated by Alaska Regional Office on 06/11/2019

Seabird Bycatch Alaska Groundfish Management Bycatch