The Ancient Mariner shot an albatross and doomed his ship. Nonetheless, the Hawaii-based swordfish fleet will be allowed to kill or injure two species of protected albatrosses. This “taking” permit is the first of its kind to be issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), prompting the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) to express fears it will set a precedent for regulating seabird mortalities rather than minimizing them.

The FWS based its permit on an an Environmental Assessment finding that the Hawaii fishery’s current level of take — 54 Laysan and 20 Black-footed albatrosses annually — posed no threat to either population. As a result, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will not be required to reduce albatross mortality in the fishery, and instead will focus on investigating how interactions can be reduced.

The boats set out long lines containing hundreds of hooks. When seabirds dive for the bait fish, they can be snared or impaled, then dragged under water and drowned. Under the permit, the Hawaii fishery will be allowed to continue its practice of dragging baited hooks on the surface of the water behind the fishing vessel.

“There is no incentive to reduce these practices if permits authorize take in such generous numbers,” said American Bird Conservancy spokesman George Wallace. “Furthermore, the permit does not require any offset or compensation from NMFS for avoidable take.”

Wallace added, “FWS has missed an opportunity to eliminate this unnecessary risk to albatrosses now, citing the example of the Alaska swordfish fishery, which is required to use streamers on lines set by vessels over 55 feet in length, and can be closed if too many endangered short-tailed albatrosses are taken. However, Wallace noted, its “take” of thousands of other seabirds is not regulated.