US fisheries act to protect Arctic and Albatrosses
Audubon Alaska, the state office of the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the US), has welcomed the decision of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to prevent the expansion of industrial fishing into all US waters north of the Bering Strait for the foreseeable future. The NPFMC has acted to limit pressure on ocean ecosystems, already under stress from global warming.
With no large-scale commercial fishing in the US Arctic at present, this decision establishes one of the most far-reaching precautionary measures in fisheries management history. Audubon was part of a consortium of groups, including Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, the Pew Environment Group, local Arctic communities and fishermen, which lobbied for this result.
The groups were concerned about the impact of commercial fishing on seabirds and other Arctic wildlife due to incidental take, reduced prey availability, and habitat disturbance. Of particular concern are activities such as bottom trawling, and its potential disruption of prey species of bottom-feeding seabirds such as Spectacled Eider Somateria fischeri.
“Much of the Arctic food web is linked to a handful of fish species” —Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska
“Much of the Arctic food web is linked to a handful of fish species, such as the Arctic Cod”, said Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska. “We don't want to add the effects of commercial fisheries while the entire ecosystem is changing due to global warming,"
Twenty-three Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are located along the Alaskan Arctic Ocean coast, plus six more on the Russian side. Eight of these are of global or continental significance. Among these is Ledyard Bay, a globally significant IBA extending 30-40 miles seaward in the Chukchi Sea. This IBA is a Critical Habitat Area for Spectacled Eiders, which are listed under the US Endangered Species Act. About 33,000 Spectacled Eiders and 500,000 King Eiders Somateria spectabilis feed on molluscs and other bottom-living prey species in the shallow waters of the Bay.
From April into November, nearly all of the breeding King Eiders from the US and Canada, plus many Russian breeding King Eiders, migrate through, stage, and forage in the eastern Chukchi Sea. Other species which use the Chukchi Sea include Vulnerable Steller’s Eider Polysticta stelleri and Critically Endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris.
“any commercial fishing for forage species may result in cascading impacts to seabirds and marine mammals” —Pat Pourchot, Senior Policy Representative at Audubon Alaska
“There are many things we simply don’t know about the Arctic Ocean ecosystem”, said Pat Pourchot, Senior Policy Representative at Audubon Alaska. “Many nesting and staging seabirds in the Arctic Ocean depend on forage fish such as Arctic cod. Accordingly, any commercial fishing for forage species may result in cascading impacts to seabirds and marine mammals.”
Meanwhile on the West Coast of the USA, where bycatch of Endangered Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes in the sablefish fishery is a primary concern, fishermen are voluntarily taking measures to stop the accidental killing of seabirds by longline fishing boats. The Fishing Vessel Owners' Association (FVOA), which represents longlining captains in the halibut and sablefish fisheries along the US West Coast, has instructed its members to use streamer (tori) lines in Washington, Oregon, and Californian waters.
Measures to prevent bycatch are already required by fleets operating in Alaska, where albatross deaths have been reduced by up to 80% thanks to the use of bird-scaring streamer lines.
"We were pleased with the process of reducing bird bycatch in Alaska, and we would support similar measures here along the West Coast," said Robert Alverson, Executive Director of FVOA, which collaborated with researchers to establish the regulations currently in force in Alaska.
Read more about how to receive BirdLife news.
Credits: Global Seabird Programme