Workshop Will Try to Lower Longline Fishing Seabird Bycatch

September 16, 1996

(16 September 1996 -- Oakland, CA) Thousands of Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses are dying annually by being hooked and drowned on baited fishhooks in the central and western Pacific. To address this problem, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today asked longline fishermen to attend a September 18th US Fish and Wildlife Service/Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council workshop to exchange information on potential solutions, at the Honolulu Community College in Building #2, Room 111, from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M..

"This workshop is a critical first step towards finding practical and effective solutions that will be acceptable to fishermen, the government and the environmental community," said Dr. Rod Fujita, an EDF marine ecologist. "The incidental deaths of albatrosses on longlines have been occurring for many years, but until recently little has been done about the problem. Wednesday's workshop is a step in the right direction."

As data from observer programs becomes available, momentum builds to get bird conservation measures in place. The data not only confirms the existence of a serious bird bycatch problem, but also exposes the large magnitude of the problem. The less abundant Black-footed Albatross is especially vulnerable to longline mortality, and future population extinctions as a result of longline mortality cannot be ruled out.

"Despite the fact that seabirds spend the majority of their long lives on the open ocean, sometimes thousands of miles from land, they have not been able to avoid the impacts of human activity," said Fujita. "This problem is preventable because no one really wants to kill these birds. Solutions have been developed in other longline fisheries. Weighting lines so that bait sinks faster, setting lines at night, using streamers to scare birds away, and setting hooks underwater so that birds cannot see the bait are just some of the techniques that have been proven to reduce seabird deaths by over 70% without compromising, and in some cases actually increasing, fishing efficiency."

"We hope fishermen will attend the workshop and figure out which methods work best for them. We also hope this workshop will serve as a model for future workshops to be held in Alaska, where longline mortality of the endangered Short-tailed Albatross has brought the Endangered Species Act into play," said Fujita.

EDF supports the efforts by federal agencies and the Hawaii-based longline fishing industry to find solutions to the problem of seabird bycatch in its tuna and swordfish fisheries.