The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a three-year permit to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorizing the incidental “take”
of migratory birds, particularly the Laysan albatross and black-footed albatross, that occurs during NMFS’ regulation of the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery that targets swordfish. “Take” in this case refers to killing or wounding the birds.
The Service issued the permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) after completing a final Environmental Assessment (EA) and finding that the fishery as regulated by NMFS would have no significant impact on populations of five seabird species covered by the permit: Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), black-footed albatross (P. nigripes), sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus), northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), and the endangered short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus).
Laysan albatross and black-footed albatross make up 99 percent of the seabirds taken in the fishery. The short-tailed albatross is believed to be at risk of take but no take of this species has been reported in this fishery.
“Less than 1 percent of the total breeding population of Laysan albatross and black-footed albatross would be taken during the fishery, and impacts to the other species covered by the permit are even less, ” said Chris McKay, Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds and State Programs in the Service’s Pacific Region. “In addition, NMFS agrees to continue monitoring seabird impacts and to study ways to further reduce them. Our long-term goal is to reduce these impacts as much as possible.”
NMFS must apply for another permit after three years.
The Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery is an open-ocean (pelagic) fishery that began in the late 1980s and has since been managed under the Fishery Management Plan for the Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific Region. Shallow-set long-lining consists of deploying a mainline 18 to 60 nautical miles long with floats at 360-meter intervals. The mainline is set 25 to 75 meters deep. About four branch lines, 10 to 20 meters long, with baited hooks and artificial light sticks to attract swordfish, are suspended between floats, for a total of about 700 to 1,000 hooks per deployment. The line is deployed, or set, after sunset, left in the water overnight and retrieved in the morning. Seabirds, as well as sea turtles and other non-target species, can be killed or injured either during deployment or retrieval of the lines when they are unintentionally hooked or entangled in fishing gear.
The shallow-set sector of the Hawaii-based longline fishery operates under NMFS’ regulations requiring the use of measures to avoid and minimize the injury and death of seabirds. Between 2004 and 2011, the fishery has taken (killed or injured) an estimated total of 335 Laysan albatross and 122 black-footed albatross, an annual average of about 54 and 20 birds of each species, respectively. These levels of take are expected to continue and are not thought to pose a risk of population-level impacts or change in conservation status for either species.
According to permit conditions, NMFS will continue operation of the fishery under current regulations that require the use of measures to avoid and minimize the take of migratory birds. In addition, NMFS proposes to analyze the high proportion of the total observed take in this fishery that occurs as injured birds. Specifically, NMFS would examine the role of untended lines, offal discards and other practices in making hooks and gear available to seabirds and possibly attracting and habituating seabirds to longline vessels, especially during gear retrieval. If new analyses and assessments lead to identification of means to reduce take of migratory birds, NMFS would initiate a process to develop remedies and potentially incorporate them into future fishery regulations. If new information does not lead to modified or new practices that could reduce the take of migratory birds in the fishery, NMFS would develop study plans for needed research and/or a proposal to offset the unavoidable take in the fishery in a manner that would not affect the operation of the fishery.
The Notice of Availability of the final EA was published in today’s Federal Register. The full text of the final EA can be downloaded at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/migratorybirds/nepa.html. Or you can request a hard copy or a CD by one of the following methods. Please specify the FEA/FONSI for the NMFS MBTA Permit on all correspondence.