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State of the Birds Report

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 Common Murres by Gerrit Vyn

Many seabirds face severe threats; marine protected areas and a fishing treaty can help birds on the ocean.

Because oceans are vast habitats, there isn’t enough broad bird population survey data for an oceans habitat indicator. However, regional surveys and research identify important habitat for seabirds, as well as potential threats—including fishing operations that deplete prey fish stocks, offshore energy development (wind power generation and gas and mineral exploration), and oil spills in critical marine foraging habitats.

In the North Atlantic, colony counts of some species (such as Northern Gannets) indicate stable or growing populations. Others (such as Arctic Terns in the Gulf of Maine) have seen large declines linked to lowered breeding productivity and changes in availability of prey fish species, due to changing ocean temperatures.

In Alaskan waters, USFWS surveys mostly show stability in seabird populations, though Aleutian Tern and Kittlitz’s Murrelet colonies are in steep decline. Point Blue Conservation Science surveys in the California Current ecosystem show Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and Cassin’s Auklet populations have recovered from past breeding failures. However, Brandt’s Cormorants and Western Gulls have suffered severe population declines, signaling the depletion of important prey such as anchovy and sardine.

Plastic pollution continues to be a problem, including a massive garbage patch in the Pacific. In one study, more than 90% of Northern Fulmars found dead on beaches had plastic in their stomachs, mostly consumer-grade plastics (e.g. toothbrushes).

Seabird populations will benefit from the proposed expansion of marine protected areas to 782,000 square miles of American waters in the Pacific.

Laysan Albatross by Gerrit

Conservation works!

The U.S. commercial fishing industry in the Pacific Ocean has made great strides in adopting bird-friendly practices. In Alaska, the use of streamers on long-line fishing boats to scare away birds reduced incidental bycatch by more than 50% from 2007 to 2012. U.S. fishing fleets use measures consistent with the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, which seeks to conserve 30 species of albatrosses and petrels. Thirteen countries have joined the ACAP treaty, including some of the world’s leading fishing nations such as Peru and Chile, but not the U.S. Signing ACAP would demonstrate U.S. leadership to other countries in the Pacific—such as Japan, China, and South Korea—and level the playing field for American fleets, since other countries would adopt the bird-friendly fishing practices that the U.S. already uses.



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