September 2012. On August 20, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) authorizing a limited number of seabirds to be killed or injured by Hawaiian swordfish vessels.
This action is the first permit ever issued under the MBTA - America's foremost law protecting migratory bird species - to regulate the "take" of migratory birds in the operation of an otherwise lawful commercial activity.
Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses killed by swordfish boats
Until now, only regulation under the Endangered Species Act had been used to prevent seabird deaths caused by commercial longline fishing, and then only in relation to the endangered Short-tailed Albatross. It has been well-known for decades that Hawaiian swordfish boats kill and injure Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses. The birds are attracted to and dive on baited hooks, becoming ensnared in lines or impaled by the hooks and dragged under the surface to be drowned. However, the MBTA had not historically been applied to this fishery because the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS - the federal agency that oversees the U.S. fishing fleet) had asserted that the areas where it operates, federal waters and on the high seas, lie outside the jurisdiction of the MBTA. But NMFS evidently reversed their position in 2011, when they decided to apply for this permit.