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The Short-tailed Albatross was nearly driven to extinction by the feather trade. The species has been making a slow but steady comeback after years of hard work by conservationists; however, it isn't out of the woods yet and that makes a recent loss keenly felt. In a recently released report, it was revealed that a Short-tailed Albatross was killed by a longline fishing boat off the Oregon coast this past April. Longline fishing is known to be a significant threat to seabird species, including albatross. The incident has spurred consultations between National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act. While the feather trade is the main culprit behind the dramatic loss of the Short-tailed Albatross, longline fishing isn't without its harmful effects and it could be slowing the recovery of the species.
The American Bird Conservancy notes, "Thousands of miles of fishing lines, carrying hundreds of millions of hooks, are set by longliners throughout the world's oceans each year. Albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, and fulmars are killed when they become attracted to the bait as the lines are set, and either swallow the hooks or become snagged and pulled under the sea to drown."
"Fishing boat observers only witness a fraction of the actual bird bycatch that occurs in the fisheries of the North Pacific, so the documented death of even a single bird is cause for concern," said Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, Director of ABC's Seabird Program.
Some of the strategies used to keep birds away from the lines include a "bird-scaring" line that keeps them away from the baited hooks while they're set. Strategies like this could help reduce the amount of seabird bycatch -- if they're used. ABC notes that no clear mandatory requirements exist in the Pacific groundfish fishery. However, the consultations initiated after the loss of the short-tailed albatross may change this.
Right now, the Short-tailed Albatross nest on only four islands (up from the single island where 10 pairs were discovered breeding after the species was thought to be extinct). While they mainly feed on squid, they will follow ships and feed on discarded scraps. A solution to the problem of birds as bycatch could not only benefit this threatened bird, but also many other seabird species.
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