Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release

Press Release

Longlines Killing Pacific Seabirds at Record Rate

NOAA Admits Official Counts Significantly Underestimate True By-Catch Toll
WASHINGTON -

Longline fishing fleets in the Pacific Ocean are killing and maiming more seabirds at the highest rates recorded, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The growing loss of seabirds caught on hooks or tangled in fishing gear appears to signal that National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) mitigation plan implemented a decade ago has not curbed this unintended harvest.

Fishing fleets in oceans across the globe utilize longlines dangling thousands of hooks on lines at various depths. This and other indiscriminate fishing methods have sparked concerns about the accidental capture of non-target species such as marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds. Since it implemented by-catch reduction plans, NOAA has been tallying “interactions” with non-target species over the past decade.

Albatrosses, fulmars, boobies and other seabirds grab the bait on hooks towed behind fishing boats. They are often impaled on barbed hooks or become snarled in lines or other gear. If unable to free themselves, they are dragged below the surface and drowned. Even if released, they are often fatally injured. NOAA tallies for Hawaii-based longline fleets –

  • Show a five to ten-fold rise in the rate in which seabirds are taken over the past decade (2004-13) in shallow-set longlines in which all fleets have coverage by fishing observers;
  • Understate by between one-quarter and one-half the actual seabird “take” on fleets which have observer coverage; and
  • Are incomplete for deep-set longline fleets, which have low rates of observer coverage. A NOAA study estimated that the number of seabirds taken in 2010 were likely nearly four-times the official totals (220 versus 57 “interactions” reflected in the official reports).

“NOAA implemented its ‘National Plan of Action for the Reduction of Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries’ back in 2003 but these numbers indicate that the plan needs more work,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who obtained emails and other records from NOAA under the Freedom of Information Act. “Unfortunately, the records do not reflect any NOAA plans, other than maintaining carcass counts, for upgrading seabird safeguards.”

NOAA reports on marine mammal and sea turtle losses from Hawaii-based longline fishing do not show similar upward trends. However, the in-depth study of deep-set by-catch in 2010 estimated that more than three-times as many sea turtles were taken than the official reports (23 versus 7 in the official reports).

“In-depth analysis suggests that the true extent of seabird harvests is significantly and systematically underestimated,” added Ruch, noting that many of the seabirds killed in Pacific longlines are threatened species, such as the Black-footed, Laysan and Short-tailed Albatrosses. “Rising seabird by-catch may be yet another symptom of the intensified competition for food on increasingly exploited oceans.”

###

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

Arctic Warming Nearly Four Times Faster Than Earth as a Whole, Study Finds

"Scientific data keeps showing that the situation is more urgent than we had previously thought."

Julia Conley ·


Watchdogs Say FTC Must Foster Internet 'Free from Unwanted Surveillance'

Privacy advocates want the agency to safeguard "personal data from misuse by big companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Meta, as well as smaller but no less nefarious data brokers."

Kenny Stancil ·


WTO Threats Against US Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Prompt Calls for 'Climate Peace Clause'

"It's time to end this circular firing squad where countries threaten and, if successful, weaken or repeal one another's climate measures through trade and investment agreements."

Jake Johnson ·


In Raid of Trump Home, FBI Was Seeking Classified Nuclear Weapons Documents

"The criminal who stole top secret nuclear documents is the same one who had absolute authority to order a nuclear attack at any time."

Jake Johnson ·


Docs Show DHS Watchdog Delayed Telling Congress About Deleted Secret Service Texts

The Project on Government Oversight says the records reveal a pattern of Inspector General Joseph Cuffari "rejecting proposals to inform Congress about the Secret Service's resistance to oversight."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo