Fisheries panel approves protection measures for seabirds

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) Endangered short-tailed albatrosses and other seabirds with a fatal attraction to bait from longline fishing vessels got a safety net Sunday in regulations approved by a federal fisheries panel.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted revised regulations requiring larger vessels in the hook and line groundfish fishery to fly bright-colored streamers from lines while setting gear. The streamer lines will create a bird-free corridor in which baited hooks can sink.

The revised regulations, initially affecting larger vessels, are an issue the council has been wrestling with for several years.

Thorn Smith, executive director of the North Pacific Longline Association in Seattle, said he agreed with the action.

''We recognize that the goal is to reduce seabird bycatch, and that the issue is so critical that we must be prepared to assume certain burdens to do so,'' Smith said.

He said the measures were being implemented as the result of a Washington Sea Grant Program study, which was providing the best information on the problem.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide free paired streamer line kits to owners of vessels fishing for groundfish and halibut in Alaska waters.

Just over 100 years ago, millions of short-tailed albatrosses flew the Pacific, federal officials said. The species was clubbed to near extinction by Japanese feather hunters who settled on the few islands where the species bred. There are now only about 1,300 birds on two islands in the Pacific.

Other issues before the council Sunday included halibut subsistence regulations and limiting access to the crab fishery. The council voted to postpone until its April meeting in Anchorage final action on Alaska Board of Fish recommendations.

''We are making adjustments to the alternatives for analysis,'' with final action to come in April in this multimillion dollar fishery, said Chris Oliver, deputy director for the council, referring to the crab fishery.

Individual fishing quotas are now an accepted part of specific fisheries, but this is the first time the council is looking at the possibility of individual processor quotas for those who process the lucrative crab harvest.

Jeff Stephan, executive director of the United Fishermens Marketing Association in Kodiak, told the council that IPQs in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab fishery limit market freedom, competition and the ability of these vessels to choose the processor.

The council was expected to conclude its meeting Monday with 2002 allocations for the multimillion dollar groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska.

Arni Thomson, executive director of the Alaska Crab Coalition, urged the council to incorporate current language from the American Fisheries Act into the crab rationalization analysis to protect quota shares for U.S. owned crab vessels. Thomson noted that between 1994 and 1998, 25 Bering Sea crab vessels that qualified under the license limitation program left U.S. vessel registry.

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