Quantifying the impact of longline fisheries on adult survival in the black-footed albatross.
Industrial longline fishing has been suspected to impact upon black-footed albatross populations Phoebastria nigripes by increasing mortality, but no precise estimates of bycatch mortality are available to ascertain this statement. We present a general framework for quantifying the relationship between albatross population and longline fishing in absence of reliable estimates of bycatch rate. We analysed capture-recapture data of a population of black-footed albatross to obtain estimates of survival probability for this population using several alternative models to adequately take into account heterogeneity in the recapture process. Instead of trying to estimate the number of birds killed by using various extrapolations and unchecked assumptions, we investigate the potential relationship between annual adult survival and several measures of fishing effort. Although we considered a large number of covariates, we used principal component analysis to generate a few uncorrelated synthetic variables from the set and thus we maintained both power and robustness. The average survival for 1997-2002 was 92%, a low value compared to estimates available for other albatross species. We found that one of the synthetic variables used to summarize industrial longline fishing significantly explained more than 40% of the variation in adult survival over 11 years, suggesting an impact by longline fishing on albatross' survival. Our analysis provides some evidence of non-linear variation in survival with fishing effort. This could indicate that below a certain level of fishing effort, deaths due to incidental catch can be partially or totally compensated for by a decrease in natural mortality. Another possible explanation is the existence of a strong interspecific competition for accessing the baits, reducing the risk of being accidentally hooked. Synthesis and applications. The suspicion of a significant impact of longline fishing on the black-footed albatross population was supported by the combination of a low estimate of adult survival for the study period, and a significant relationship between adult survival and a synthetic measure of fishing effort. This study highlights the sensitivity of the black-footed albatross to commercial longline fishing, and should exhort fishery management authorities to find adequate seabirds avoidance methods and to encourage their employment.