This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by 12 ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including Ornithology Exchange and the Ornithological Council!
New federal legislation introduced to protect albatrosses and petrels
Of the 22 species of albatross recognized by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 15 are threatened with extinction, and eight species are either endangered or critically endangered. More than half of all petrel species are threatened with extinction. Threats to seabirds include bycatch from longline fishing, especially from illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries in the Southern Ocean, as well as the introduction of invasive predators, and marine pollution.
The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, or ACAP, is a legally binding international agreement promoting the conservation of several species of migratory seabirds. The agreement promotes activities that minimize harm to albatrosses and petrels, improve research of albatross and petrel conservation, and increase public awareness of the dangers facing these storied species. ACAP, which went into effect in 2004 has 13 national signatories. The United States is not among them. President George W. Bush first asked the U.S. Senate to ratify the agreement in 2008, and while President Barack Obama has listed it as a priority, the Senate has yet to take action. However, as is the case with many international agreements to which the U.S. is not a party, federal agencies often participate in activities that support the international agreement. For instance, through the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, the Smithsonian’s Office of International Relations, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. participates in various aspects of the Convention on Biological Diversity including the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice and the Nagoya Protocol on the Sharing of Genetic Resources).
To help promote efforts that would support the goals of the ACAP, Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced on 4 February 2016 legislation (H.R.4480) that ties together existing U.S. laws and statutes without substantially changing current laws in order to implement the international agreement. According to Lowenthal, “This legislation will give the U.S. more international influence to protect these endangered sea birds around the world by authorizing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement fisheries conservation measures, increase international fisheries enforcement, restore habitat, reduce non-native species, develop educational programs, and cooperate internationally.”
According to National Audubon, the legislation authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to engage in activities that will improve conditions for albatrosses and petrels, including:
· Habitat restoration
· Control of non-native species
· Research into the conservation of albatrosses and petrels
· Development of programs to raise awareness of the issue
· Bycatch reduction measures and research
The legislation does not expand or alter the enforcement scheme for albatrosses and petrels found within U.S. jurisdiction, because these species are already protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Domestic fisheries would not be subject to additional restrictions on their activities under the proposed legislation.
National Audubon encourages everyone to encourage members of Congress to support the bill. As of 8 February, the bill number is not available but it will be posted here as soon as it is known. Any legislation has an increased chance of success if it has a large number of co-signers, so you might want to send your representative (find your rep by name, state, or zip code here) a note like this:
Dear (name of your representative)
Of the 22 species of albatross recognized by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 15 are threatened with extinction, and eight species are either endangered or critically endangered. More than half of all petrel species are threatened with extinction. The Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act (H.R.4480), introduced by Mr. Lowenthal on February 4, is a golden opportunity for the United States to improve wildlife conservation not just here at home, but around the world. Please co-sign this bill and vote for passage if it reaches a full House vote.
(Note: If your Representative is on the House Committee on Natural Resources or the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, you should add, “Please vote for the bill when it comes before the committee.” You can add other text to your note if you like, but very short and direct is best when communicating with members of Congress because the staff members generally note only the extent of support or opposition to the bill).