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How Not to Kill an Albatross: By Making One Simple Change, Fishermen Can Save These Endangered Seabirds

Source: Hakai Magazine/Ashley Braun - November 13, 2017 in Environment

How Not to Kill an Albatross: By Making One Simple Change, Fishermen Can Save These Endangered Seabirds
Photo: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On April 11, 2011, a seabird drowned in fishing gear off the coast of Oregon. While this happens quite often, the death of this particular bird—an endangered short-tailed albatross inadvertently hooked by commercial fishermen—set off an alarm bell heard by researchers and regulators alike.

“It kind of woke everybody up,” says Edward Melvin, a fisheries scientist with Washington Sea Grant. It also eventually led researchers to recognize that fishermen held one surprisingly simple solution to an ongoing by-catch problem—albatrosses getting caught in fishing gear.

Albatrosses are known to swoop into the sea to steal bites off a descending fishing line’s baited hooks. The birds get snagged and drown, often enough to be a worrisome trend. Between 2010 and 2013, an estimated 50 to 215 of a different albatross species—the black-footed albatross—were hurt or killed each year by commercial fisheries off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts. Most of the deaths were caused by the black cod fishery’s longline hooks, confirming what Melvin and his colleagues had previously predicted.

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