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In the 1990s, the endangered status of the short-tailed albatross catalyzed efforts to reduce the number of birds accidentally killed as bycatch in Alaska, home to the country's biggest fisheries. Marine fisheries scientist Ed Melvin, at Washington Sea Grant at the University of Washington, and research associate Kim Dietrich, an independent contractor, were at the forefront of a collaborative research effort that led to Alaska's longline fisheries adopting streamer lines in 2002, a technology that is towed behind vessels to create a visual barrier that keeps seabirds away from the baited hooks below.
In a new study published Jan. 28 in the journal Conservation Biology, Melvin, Dietrich and partners from Oregon State University and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center show that in the time since they were adopted, streamer lines have had an extraordinary impact: seabird bycatch in Alaska's longline fisheries has been reduced by 77 to 90 percent, saving thousands of birds per year including hundreds of albatrosses.
Melvin - Success - Thanks - Fishing - Industry
Melvin said much of this success is thanks to the fishing industry's active involvement when the team was researching methods to avoid seabird bycatch two decades ago.
"It's really to the industry's credit that they were fully engaged in the research and started implementing streamer lines two to three years before they became mandatory," Melvin said. "The fishermen owned the solution from start to finish."
Solution - Fisheries - Observers - Seabirds - Order
The solution also involved training fisheries observers to properly identify seabirds in order to record vessel bycatch. "The data they were able to collect over decades allowed us to monitor and estimate bycatch rates and track the success of this effort," said co-author Shannon Fitzgerald, a fisheries scientist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
The researchers arrived at their results by analyzing 23 years' worth of this meticulously collected fisheries observer data. While they found that bycatch rates remain much lower...
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