From: Tara Godvin, Associated Press
Published November 7, 2005 12:00 AM

Longline Fishing Rules Limit Bird Deaths

HONOLULU — New rules for longline fishing in the islands are saving the lives of sea birds who attempt to steal bait from hooks meant for swordfish, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council said Thursday.


Between 1994 and 1999, 3,000 Laysan and black-footed albatrosses were accidentally hooked by Hawaii longline fishermen each year. After new rules were put into practice in late 2004, the number of albatrosses caught in the lines was down to 67 for the first half of 2005, according to the council.


"What's happening is that this new method of fishing is catching way less birds. Of those, of the few birds that are caught, two out of every three birds that are caught are being released," said Paul Dalzell, senior scientist with the council.


Many of the birds caught in the old lines died, he said.


The new methods also have reduced the number of leatherback and loggerhead turtles snagged on the lines by 70 percent and 90 percent, respectively. Hooking more than 16 of the endangered leatherback or 17 of the threatened loggerhead turtles would prompt a shut down of the fishery, he said.


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The success of the new measures, which include coloring bait blue and setting fish lines at night, prompted the council to vote down a proposal to require fisherman to also use special lines designed to scare birds away.


The council also decided to revise an alternative to the bird-saving techniques. The original proposal would have allowed fisherman to set their lines from the side of their boats, using 60-gram weights on their fishing lines. The council reduced the weights to 45 grams because the heavier weights posed a significant safety risk to fishermen.


Setting the lines from the side instead of throwing them off the back of the boat also works to keep birds away because the hull becomes an obstacle for the bait-diving birds, according to the council.


BirdLife International, based in Cambridge, England, calls longline fishing one of the greatest threats to the world's sea birds. The organization has launched a Save the Albatross campaign to encourage regulations that will help spare the birds.


The council has been looking for ways to deal with the problem of accidental bird deaths since about 1991, said Beth Flint, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.


"It's extremely good that they're working on improving the regulations and strengthening the mitigation techniques because these fisheries are in general worldwide are devastating to all albatross species," she said.


While Flint said she did not know her agency's official stance yet on the council's revision of weight requirements, she pointed out that heavier weights are one way to keep bait from attracting birds.


"The object of the game is to get that bait deep enough that it's out of reach of the birds quickly, before it becomes accessible to them," she said.


However, Dalzell said a study had shown that 60-gram weights sank baits at only a tenth of a second faster than the lighter, 40-gram weights.


Flint said Hawaii's fishery is better monitored than most. But the numbers of the black-footed albatross in particular are declining. And a new study indicates that decline can be attributed to fishing practices, she said.


Source: Associated Press


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