The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will begin drawing up rules to reduce the deaths of albatrosses which get hooked and drown in the Hawaii long line fishery.
In developing the regulations, the Council had directed its staff to begin the necessary steps in drafting the rules which include information campaign and conducting various meetings to longline fishermen.
While some groups have criticized the Council’s move, others, however, have commended its action. Some conservation groups believe that the Council has been remiss in its failure to implement mitigation regulations developed for other longline fisheries. On the other hand, some sectors have recognized that hasty regulation may not be successful and have praised the planned step by step approach which the Council has taken.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Service has even noted the steps taken by the Council as the most effective approach in dealing with this problem.
Most of the albatrosses caught in Hawaii fishery are Laysan and Black-footed, which nest on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Research shows that most of the birds taken are young, while smarter adult birds generally do not dive on the longlines. The birds follow the longliners setting the gear and dive on the baited hooks.
If they are lucky, they get a free feed of fish or squid, but if hooked, they are dragged underwater by the line and die. This problem is more acute on vessels that are mainly targeting swordfish, which set lines close to the sea surface. Deeper setting tuna-targeting vessels have lines which sink quickly and are less of a temptation for seabirds.
The Council is also currently conducting an at-sea project to test the most effective methods which prevent or minimize albatross-long line interactions. Results of the experiment will be revealed to the Council at its 100th meeting in June 1999.