Despite knowing that seabird bycatch in fisheries is a real problem for many albatross populations, we have long struggled to know where birds go, where boats fish, and where the two interact in the vast oceans, especially in largely unregulated international waters. Yet, with technological innovations of fine-scale GPS tags deployed on birds and satellite monitoring of vessel traffic we finally have tools to help uncover these data gaps. In this research project we combined these two datasets for albatross and fishing vessels in the North Pacific to understand where and when birds and boats do and don’t overlap, and what drives interaction events.
We are identifying fine-scale albatross-fishing interactions using AIS data processed by Global Fishing Watch (GFW) to identify fishing events (http://globalfishingwatch.org/) and GPS tracking data from adult Laysan, and black-footed albatrosses, and juvenile short-tailed albatrosses provided by our collaborators. Our integrated analysis of fine-scale fishing vessel and albatross movements has identified events in which albatrosses were likely able to detect the presence of fishing vessels and subsequently choose to approach or to ignore vessels. Surprisingly, fishing vessel characteristics, such as vessel type or gear, were not significant contributing factors to albatross choice to approach a vessel; however, local fishing density and vessel length both contributed. These results and more provide critical information needed by environmental managers to best direct their efforts to reduce albatross bycatch while also supporting sustainable and profitable fisheries.
Overall, our analytical methods to assess the overlap between GPS tracks of albatross and fishing vessel movement data acquired from GFW indicates that (1) it is feasible to identify interactions events between seabirds and fishing vessels at a very fine-scale, including on the high-seas and outside US EEZ waters, and (2) it is possible to describe the potential drivers of fine-scale interaction events between seabirds and fishing vessels. We have demonstrated that GFW data and our methods are useful to better understand marine megafauna fine-scale interactions with fishing vessels. We are confident that our approach can be applied to other marine species, areas, and times of suspected bycatch conflicts to inform management efforts.
High-seas fisheries are often considered the wild-west: out of sight and out of control. How, when and where albatrosses interact with fishing vessels in these regions is unknown, leaving a significant knowledge gap regarding their bycatch risk.