U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Biological Conservation 141 (2008) 3101-3115.


The population-level impact of seabird bycatch is difficult to assess because colony-of-origin is often unknown. As an alternative and complementary approach to ship-derived observations, we assessed the relative potential for bycatch of a known seabird population by quantifying spatio-temporal overlap with local fisheries. Common murres (Uria aalge) have been reported as the most abundant seabird inadvertently caught in Washington and British Columbia coastal gillnet fisheries. In 1999–2001, we tracked 48 common murres from Tatoosh Island, the closest colony to the fisheries, during post-breeding. Using capture- mark-recapture models, we estimated weekly murre movement probabilities to/from three strata (offshore of, centered around, and inshore of Tatoosh Island). Based on movement probabilities and population size, we projected strata- and week-specific murre abundance. We created an index of overlap by calculating the product of murre abundance x gillnet fishing effort as a function of strata and time. The majority of murres (80%) moved inshore, where fishing effort was consistently the highest, suggesting that up to 4000 Tatoosh murres were vulnerable to bycatch. Index scores in the inshore stratum were 5–25 times higher relative to the offshore and Tatoosh strata, respectively. Overlap was sensitive to phenology, as index scores increased by 50% when dispersal was shifted four weeks earlier, while a two weeks delay decreased scores by 20%. Until the long-term impact of cumulative mortality in gillnet fisheries is determined, we believe a precautionary approach is warranted in the inshore stratum where the potential for bycatch was highest. We advocate the use of visible netting in inshore fisheries, a proven solution that reduces murre bycatch while maintaining fishing efficiency.