Beginning in 2004, improved seabird avoidance measures are required in the Alaska (USA) demersal longline fisheries for groundfish and Pacific halibut based on the results of extensive collaborative research. Due to the lack of data on the distribution of seabirds, especially albatrosses and petrels, seabird mitigation requirements apply to all fishing areas. Many small (<17 m) fishing vessels are less able to use standard seabird deterrents such as streamer lines and fish the protected water of Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound where Procellariids are thought to be uncommon. We established a program where seabird abundance data is collected in the course of annual longline fish assessment surveys to determine the relative distribution of seabirds on the Alaska fishing grounds. Starting in 2002, IPHC, NOAA Fisheries Auke Bay Laboratory, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game collected seabird abundance data using an easy-to-use protocol. Nearly 79,000 seabirds were recorded during 1,405 longline sets. Seabird densities were highest in the Central Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. No albatrosses or fulmars and few seabirds were counted in inside waters during the survey strongly suggesting that seabird-longline interactions are unlikely in these areas. This program continues and is being expanded to Alaska trawl surveys. Multi-year data sets will allow assessment of where seabird mitigation is necessary on the Alaska fishing grounds and elucidate the foraging habitat of these seabirds. This collaboration emphatically demonstrates the value and economy of using existing fishery surveys to gather information on the at- sea distribution of seabirds and the extent of overlap of seabirds with fishing activities.
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