News Release

January 10, 2012

Permit Request Considered for Hawaiian Fishery Draft Environmental Assessment analyzes potential impacts to albatross species

Media Contacts:
Joan Jewett, 503-231-6211
Holly Freifeld, 503-231-6164

Comments on the draft EA will be accepted until February 9, 2012


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of a request from the National Marine Fisheries Service for a permit authorizing the incidental "take" of migratory birds, particularly the Laysan albatross and black-footed albatross, 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 draft EA analyzes three alternatives: no action; issue the permit as requested; and issue the permit with additional conditions to conduct new research and to increase conservation benefit to seabirds.

The Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery is a pelagic or open-ocean 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 2010, the fishery has taken (killed or injured) an estimated total of 332 Laysan albatross and 118 black-footed albatross, an annual average of about 55 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.

NMFS proposes to 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. These commitments would become conditions of a potential permit.

"We will issue a special purpose permit only if we determine that the take is compatible with the conservation intent of the MBTA," said Chris McKay, Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds and State Programs in the Service's Pacific Region.

The Notice of Availability of the draft EA was published in today's Federal Register. The full text of the draft 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 DEA for the NMFS MBTA Permit on all correspondence.

You may submit comments or requests for copies of more information by:

* Email: pacific_birds@fws.gov. Include "DEA for the NMFS MBTA Permit" in the subject line of the message.
* U.S. Mail: Please address written comments to Michael Green, Acting Chief, Division of Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs, Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 911 NE 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97232.
* Fax: Michael Green, Acting Chief, Division of Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs, 503-231-2019; Attn.: DEA for the NMFS MBTA Permit.