The distribution of seabirds on the Alaskan longline fishing grounds : implications for seabird avoidance regulations
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The distribution of seabirds on the Alaskan longline fishing grounds : implications for seabird avoidance regulations

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    Seabird mortality in longline fisheries is a worldwide marine conservation problem (Robertson and Gales 1998). Seabirds aggregate in response to fishing operations and can become hooked and drown as they attack sinking baited hooks. Because many seabirds are long-lived with delayed maturity and limited reproductive capability, their populations are highly vulnerable to adult mortality. Even low levels of adult mortality can halt population growth or cause decline (Croxall et al. 1990; Weimerskirch et al. 1997). In the Alaska groundfish longline fisheries, incidental seabird mortality averaged 13,144 birds per year from 1993 to 2004, ranging from a high of 26,269 seabirds in 1998 to a low of 4,106 in 2002. Procellariiform seabirds (referred to as tubenose seabirds) � northern fulmars, albatrosses, and shearwaters� were, as a group, the most frequently caught (68.7%). Tubenose seabirds are the most oceanic of avian species, since most return to land only to breed or seek refuge from storms. The remaining takes included gull species (20%), unidentified seabirds (10.9%), and other seabird species (0.4%, including kittiwakes). Given the paucity of data on seabird distribution in Alaskan waters and the need to manage Alaska's longline fisheries based on the best available science, Washington Sea Grant Program (WSGP) developed a three-year collaborative program with the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), NMFS Alaska Fisheries Science Center Auke Bay Laboratory, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) to collect seabird data in the course of Pacific halibut and sableflsh (Anoplopomafimb​ria) stock assessment surveys on longline vessels. Preliminary data from 2002, the first year of seabird surveys, suggested that tubenoses were rare or absent in inside waters (Melvin et al. 2004). In this report, the authors provide the most current and comprehensive data on the distribution patterns of seabirds on the Alaskan longline fishing grounds and recommend regulatory changes based on analyses of this unique data set. In addition, the authors provide a characterizatio​n of the Alaska longline fishing fleet and quantify the number and size class of fishing vessels potentially affected by suggested regulatory changes.
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