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Longline Fishermen Scare Seabirds for Their Own Protection
WASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2008 (ENS) - Longline fishing fleets on the high seas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will now use special lines that scare seabirds to keep them from taking the bait set out on the long lines as food.

Bird-scaring lines, also called tori lines, are streamers that hang from a line attached at the stern of a fishing vessel. They help prevent birds from reaching the bait when fishing lines are set in the ocean.

Other newly adopted techniques include fishing at night when few birds are active and weighting fishing lines so the baited hooks sink out of reach of birds. These measures will govern fishing for tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean.

These measures will protect endangered albatross and seabird species that fly far from land. Their populations are declining faster than most birds around the world, in part due to their incidental catch in fishing long lines used to catch tuna and swordfish.

Albatross hooked on a long line (Photo by Fabio Olmos courtesy BirdLife International)

The new protections are the focus of international measures promoted by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, that go into effect this year.

"Some of the most vulnerable seabird populations travel entire oceans in search of food. Seabird conservation will require nations with longline fishing fleets to work together to adapt their fishing practices to avoid seabirds wherever they fish," said Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., NOAA administrator and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

In November, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas adopted a requirement that the European Commission and 44 other nations use special gear and techniques to reduce the unintended catch of seabirds.

In December, the European Commission and 24 fishing nations that make up the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission set technical specifications for the use of bird-scaring lines and other techniques that help fishermen avoid hooking seabirds by accident.

The negotiations in the Pacific were particularly significant for the United States because two of the three albatross species found in the North Pacific Ocean - the Laysan albatross and the black-footed albatross - breed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

A third species affected by fishing lines - the short-tailed albatross - breeds in Japan and is found in U.S. waters. It is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and there are only about 2,200 short-tailed albatross alive today.

"The fate of these vulnerable seabirds is important to the United States and to our longline fishermen, who, under U.S. law, are already taking significant precautions to avoid seabird bycatch," said Lautenbacher. "We are pleased that some of the same effective measures will now be adopted by fishermen from many other nations."

Measures similar to those adopted by the two international organizations have proven to be effective in international waters off Antarctica.

Since they were adopted by the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources in 1991, they have reduced the unintended catch of seabirds by 90 percent. No albatrosses were unintentionally caught for the second consecutive year in 2007 in the regulated longline fisheries in these waters.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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