Reducing Seabird Bycatch in the West Bering Sea

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > Eastern Europe > Russian Federation

Summary

Seabird bycatch caused by long-line fishing creates serious threat to such rear species as Short-tailed albatross and other less endangered species. This is due to big scale fishing operations and absence in Russian waters of any means mitigating their negative effects.

The main goal of the project is to arrange field tests of streamers, equipment which allows decreasing seabird bycatch during fishing operations in the West Bering Sea. This will show to Russian fishermen, nature protecting agencies and governmental structures, that regulating fishing has a tremendous impact on to the seabird biodiversity.

Background

The long-line fishing has quickly developed human activities in the North West Pacific. The number of vessels, fishing for cod, halibut and other fish species is constantly increasing. This causes environmental problems such as mammal and seabird bycatch.

In Russian waters no special devices are used to avoid bycatch. Fishermen loose baits and shoot to scare off or to kill birds. International experience shows that there are some techniques and equipments, which allow considerably to decrease the number of birds killed or caught by long-line hooks. But nobody ever use this knowledge in the Far East Russian exclusive zone.

According to preliminary data, from 20,000 to 30,000 birds are killed annually by long-line fishing. In comparison the annual average of seabirds killed by drif nets in Russian waters is about 65,000, including mainly seagulls, Northern fulmars, etc. The rare, almost vanished, widely migrating Short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria or Diomedea albatrus) may be caught by hooks too. This species is listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered throughout its range (65 FR 46643). Fishermen caught in possession of this species should be arrested immediately.

Description of the Short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria or Diomedea albatrus)

With a wingspan of over 2 meters (over 7 feet), the short-tailed albatross is the largest seabird in the North Pacific. Its long, narrow wings are adapted to soaring low over the ocean. Historically, millions of short-tailed albatrosses bred in the Western North Pacific on several islands south of the main islands of Japan. Only two breeding colonies remain active today: Torishima Island and Minami-kojima Island, Japan. In addition, a single nest was recently found on Yomejima Island of the Ogasawara Island group in Japan. Single nests also occasionally occur on Midway Island, Hawaii.

Short-tailed albatrosses forage widely across the temperate and sub-arctic North Pacific, and can be seen in the Gulf of Alaska, along the Aleutian Islands, and in the Bering Sea. The world population is currently estimated to about 1,500 birds and is increasing. Like many seabirds, short-tailed albatrosses are slow to reproduce and are long lived, with some known to be over 40 years old. They begin breeding at about 7 or 8 years, and mate for life. They nest on sloping grassy terraces. Pairs lay a single egg each year in October or November. Eggs hatch in late December through early January. Chicks remain near the nest for about 5 months, fledging in June. After breeding, short-tailed albatrosses move to feeding areas in the North Pacific. When feeding, albatrosses alight on the ocean surface and seize their prey, including squid, fish and shrimp.

Short-tailed albatrosses have survived multiple threats to their existence. During the late 1800's and early 1900's, feather hunters clubbed to death an estimated 5,000,000 of them, stopping only when the species was nearly extinct. In the 1930's, nesting habitat on the only active nesting island in Japan was damaged by volcanic eruptions, leaving less than 50 birds by the 1940's. Loss of nesting habitat to volcanic eruptions, severe storms, and competition with black-footed albatrosses continue to be natural threats to short-tailed albatrosses today.

Human induced threats include hooking and drowning on commercial long-line gear, collision with vessel rigging, entanglement in derelict fishing gear, and ingestion of plastic debris and contamination from oil spills.

Objectives

Collect data and recommendations, worked out on the basis of field tests involving local fishing companies, to:
- Introduce new techniques and equipments for the reduction of seabird bycatch.
- Decrease the threat to almost extinct species such as the Short-tailed albatross.

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