HABITAT CONSERVATION PLANNING FOR ALASKA COASTAL SPECIES:
SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS DETERRENT MEASURES, SEABIRD
INCIDENCE OBSERVATIONS, AND OBSERVER PROGRAM
Federal Aid Project E-5-HP
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Division of Commercial Fisheries
P.O. Box 25526
Juneau, AK 99802-5526
1The Regional Information Report Series was established in 1987 to provide an information access
system for all unpublished divisional reports. These reports frequently serve diverse ad hoc
informational purposes or archive basic uninterpreted data. To accommodate timely reporting of
recently collected information, reports in this series undergo only limited internal review and may
contain preliminary data; this information may be subsequently finalized and published in the
formal literature. Consequently, these reports should not be cited without prior approval of the
author or the Division of Commercial Fisheries.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. SEABIRD INCIDENCE ABOARD SURVEY RESEARCH VESSELS....................................1
3. SEABIRD DETERRENT TRAINING........................................................................................3
4. OBSERVER PROGRAM ENHANCEMENT FOR SEABIRD MONITORING.......................3
5. LITERATURE CITED ...............................................................................................................5
APPENDIX 1: Off the Hook...........................................................................................................6
APPENDIX 2: The Distribution of Seabirds on Alaskan Longline Fishing Grounds.....................7
The short-tailed albatross (Diomedea albatrus) has been listed as endangered since 1970.
Although the species range includes the North Pacific and Bering Sea coasts of Alaska, its
seasonal abundance in nearshore waters has not been well known. Because short-tailed albatross
may number less than 1,000, concerns have been raised about potential entanglement and
bycatch in coastal and offshore fisheries. There are at least 40 records of the species within
Alaskan coastal waters (0-3 nm), but incidental take has not been documented from fisheries in
state waters (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002). This project sought to enhance our
understanding of nearshore albatross distributions and reduce the potential for accidental injury.
Project components included an investigation of short-tailed albatross and other seabird
occurrence in nearshore waters, using vessels simulating the commercial longline fleet, training
for commercial fishermen in seabird avoidance techniques, and enhancements to the state of
Alaska’s observer program. The general scope of the objectives for these studies is to provide
background information on areas of concern that involve fisheries and that might eventually be
needed to develop Habitat Conservation Plans. Most of the work for short-tailed albatross and
seabird deterrent components of this project was performed under contract to by the Washington
Sea Grant Program (WSGP).
2. SEABIRD INCIDENCE ABOARD SURVEY RESEARCH VESSELS
The extent to which short-tailed albatross interact with fisheries, particularly longline fisheries,
has been poorly known, in part, because much of the fishing is conducted by small vessels that
cannot easily accommodate onboard observers. The smaller longline vessels tend to frequent
inshore areas so that the observer information from larger offshore vessels which can carry
observers is not readily applicable. One component of this project was to apply seabird bycatch
and observation records from chartered longline research vessels, for which seabird incidence
observations are available, as a proxy for seabird incidence aboard small commercial longliners.
Longline vessels are routinely chartered by the International Pacific Halibut Commission
(IPHC), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Alaska Department of Fish and
Game (ADF&G) for fish stock assessment surveys. These chartered vessels provide platforms of
opportunity for observing the relative distribution of seabirds on the Alaskan longline fishing
grounds. The chartered vessels are required to carry trained fishery samplers to record catch
information. With additional training, the fishery samplers can also record seabird incidence
information. Because the chartered survey vessels fish in both inshore and offshore areas using
methods similar to commercial longline vessels, the survey observations can provide a proxy for
the unobserved small longline fleet, which tends to fish mostly in inshore waters.
Seabird observations were collected during four longline stock assessment surveys in 2002:
1. IPHC coastwide halibut survey,
2. ADFG Northern Southeast Inside (NSEI) sablefish survey,
3. ADFG Southern Southeast Inside (SSEI) sablefish survey, and
4. NMFS sablefish survey.
WSGP staff trained the fishery samplers to identify and quantify North Pacific seabirds.
Immediately after hauling operations, samplers recorded the number of seabirds by species or
species group on the water and in the air within a 50-meter radius of the vessel's stern. All
albatross species, northern fulmars, and red-legged (Rissa brevirostris) and black-legged
kittiwakes (R. tridactyla) were identified to the species level. Gulls, terns, shearwaters, storm
petrels, jaegers, alcids, and cormorants were identified to the species group level. This "snap
shot" methodology yields information on the presence and absence of species and their relative
abundance. All hauls were monitored for incidental seabird mortality as well. IPHC received and
managed data from all the surveys. The information was entered into a database by IPHC staff,
and was made available to the WSGP at the University of Washington for analysis.
In the project segment described in this report, the seabird information from 2002 research
surveys were analyzed and a publication (Melvin et al. 2004) was produced. Seabird data were
collected from 80 ADF&G survey sets, 1,228 IPHC survey sets and 142 NMFS survey sets for a
total of 1,450 observed sets of longline gear. A total of 79,131 birds were observed in the course
of these surveys for an average of 54.6 seabirds per observed longline set. Most seabirds were
northern fulmars (75%). Albatrosses (11%) and gulls (8%) were also common. Seabirds were
absent in 223 (15.4%) longline sets, 43% of which were in inside waters.
Seabird observations were plotted as a function of location and density using ArcGIS (ESRI,
Redlands, CA). Mean number of seabirds per haul-observation were calculated for each species
or species group by NMFS Management Area and IPHC Regulatory Area and were contrasted
for inside and outside waters. Because only one survey station occurred in the state waters of
Cook Inlet, Cook Inlet was not included in the analysis of inside waters.
Short-tailed albatross were rarely observed within the 50m observation zone (11 sightings), with
one observation in the Central Gulf of Alaska and the remainder in the Western Gulf of Alaska,
the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea (Figure 1). No short-tailed albatross were observed in
inside waters. Sightings were consistent with those reported to the USFWS since 1994 during
Details of the findings are described in Melvin et al. (2004, Appendix ), which includes GIS
maps of survey effort and seabird distributions and discusses the significance of these findings
relative to managing seabird bycatch in the fleets of small longline vessels. Onboard fish
samplers were also trained to collect these data in 2003 during this project. The 2002 data report
(Melvin et al. 2004) produced for this project segment is available online
(http://www.wsg.washington.edu/outreach/mas/fisheries/datareport.pdf) and is included as an
appendix to this report.
3. SEABIRD DETERRENT TRAINING
In December, 2004, the State of Alaska adopted regulations requiring seabird avoidance
measures in longline fisheries into the Alaska Administrative Code under 5 AAC 28.055 These
regulations mirror federal fishing regulations under 50 C.F.R. 679.24 that include the use of
rapidly sinking hooks, controlling offal discharge, and deploying buoy bag lines and streamer
However, proper deployment of seabird deterrents is critical to their success. A previous joint
effort by Washington and Alaska Sea Grant resulted in edited video footage demonstrating
proper use of seabird deterrent measures for longline fishing gear. The second component in the
current project completed production of the video footage and provided funding to duplicate and
distribute the video program to commercial fishermen longlining in Alaska.
The resulting video “Off the Hook: an informational video for longline fishermen in Alaska” is
available as a VHS or PAL video recording, or can be viewed online at the Washington Sea Grant
website: http://www.wsg.washington.edu/research/living/seabirdvideo.html (see Appendix 1) in
the proprietary RealPlayer and Windows Media Video formats.
The video describes the conservation issues involving incidental mortality of seabirds in Alaskan
longline fisheries and provides instruction on the use of “streamer lines”, one of the seabird
bycatch mitigation technologies. A press release announcing the release of the video was
distributed to 417 entities (49 fishing industry, 194 government, 47 NGO, 64 academic, 10
media, and 58 unclassified entities) in 43 countries. A mailing distribution list was synthesized
from ADF&G and CFEC permit holder records to cover distribution of the video to the core of
the Alaska longline fleet. Copies of the VHS videotape, notification of the new regulations, and a
brochure on streamer lines (produced by WSGP), were distributed to 1,800 Alaska hook and line
permit holders on the mailing list. Copies of the video were also distributed to fishermen over
the counter from eight ADF&G offices. An additional 292 NTSC copies of the video were
distributed to 86 individuals (20 industry, 46 government, 10 NGO, 7 academic, 1 media, 3
unknown affiliation) in 10 countries, and PAL copies were mailed to 33 individuals (13 industry,
14 government, 4 NGO, 2 academic) in 14 countries.
4. OBSERVER PROGRAM ENHANCEMENT FOR SEABIRD
The seabird identification capabilities of ADF&G onboard observers (Schwenzfeier et al. 2002)
were enhanced as part of this project. Seventy copies of “Beached Birds” (2nd edition), from the
University of Washington “Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team” (COASST) program,
were purchased to help observers identify incidentally caught seabirds in the hand. In addition,
70 copies of the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America” were
purchased for general seabird identification by the observers.
Figure 1. Location of endangered short-tailed albatross (STAL) sightings during 2002 IPHC, ADF&G, and NMFS assessment surveys (stars
indicate sightings within 50 m observation zone; pins indicate sightings outside observation zone). Also shown (small diamonds) are
short-tailed albatross sightings reported to the USFWS between May-September, 1994-1998. (Based on Melvin et al. 2004, Figure 7).
5. LITERATURE CITED
Melvin, E., Dietrich, K., Van Wormer, K., and T. Geernaert. 2004. The distribution of seabirds on
Alaskan longline fishing grounds: 2002 data report. Washington Sea Grant publication WSG-
Schwenzfeier, M., S. Coleman and R. Reif. 2002. State of Alaska mandatory shellfish onboard
observer program: Report to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, Spring 2002. Alaska Department of
Fish and Game, Division of Commercial Fisheries, Regional Information Report 4K02-9,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2002. Habitat conservation plan for coastal Alaska: has the time
come? Unpubl. Report. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, Anchorage. 9pp.
APPENDIX 1: Off the Hook