Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 1, 2022


Catherine Kilduff, (530) 304-7258,

Seabird Protection From Federal Fisheries On Horizon

Biden Administration Grants Petition to Regulate Bird Bycatch

WASHINGTON— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that it intends to regulate commercial fisheries’ incidental killing of seabirds. In an email sent Monday to the Center, the Service said it will publish a proposed bird-bycatch rule this summer.

More than 7,000 seabirds a year are hooked on longlines, entangled in nets or otherwise killed in U.S. commercial fisheries despite the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s prohibition on take of migratory birds. Conditional permits created by the Service could set limits on the incidental killing, reducing overall take and improving monitoring and reporting in Alaska, Hawaii and other coastal areas.

“The Biden administration is taking an important step toward protecting seabirds from dying in U.S. commercial fishing gear,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney in the Center’s Oceans program. “Declining seabird populations are a global conservation crisis, so it’s a relief that they may finally get the protections required by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Bird bycatch can be minimized and avoided if the Fish and Wildlife Service takes its international conservation commitments seriously.”

Monday’s announcement came in response to a Center petition sent Dec. 6, 2021. The petition followed an announcement reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibition on killing migratory birds incidental to other activities.

North America’s wild bird population has declined by 3 billion, or 29%, since 1970. One of the greatest threats to seabirds across the globe is commercial fisheries. Seabirds commonly caught in U.S. commercial fisheries include Northern fulmars, black-footed albatross, sooty shearwater, great shearwaters and red-throated loons.

One of the species most frequently caught by U.S. commercial fisheries is the black-footed albatross. These seabirds are long-lived, late-maturing and nest on Pacific islands that will be inundated by sea-level rise. Yet commercial fisheries catch more than 950 black-footed albatrosses a year. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s rulemaking petition could reduce the number of albatrosses killed in fisheries to make the population more resilient to the changing climate.

In 2020 a federal court rejected Trump’s reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that let industry off the hook for killing birds. The Center has long fought for better protections for seabirds caught in fishing gear. In 2017 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by allowing the longline fishery to kill albatrosses and other protected seabirds in the course of fishing operations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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