Nonbreeding distribution of flesh-footed shearwaters and the potential for overlap with north Pacific fisheries
Populations of flesh-footed shearwaters on Lord Howe Island, Tasman Sea, have declined recently, with mortality in longline fisheries likely to be one of the major causes. It is therefore imperative to increase our understanding of their distribution at sea, especially during winter. Although they are known to migrate to the north Pacific Ocean, until this study there was very little information available on timing of movements, distribution and habitat use of individuals. Ten to 16 flesh-footed shearwaters (37 in total) were tracked from Lord Howe Island in each of three winter seasons (2005, 2007 and 2008). All birds migrated to the north-west Pacific Ocean, with approximately 70% wintering to the east of Japan in the Kurashio and Oyashio currents, around the Bonin Islands in the north Philippine Sea, or in the eastern Sea of Japan. Others spent a varying amount of time in the Yellow and East China seas, or in the western Sea of Japan. These waters already support intensive fisheries and demand for seafood is likely to rise in tandem with the increasing human populations of East Asia. Consequently, results presented here show that members of the largest population of flesh-footed shearwaters winter exclusively in the north-west Pacific Ocean around Japan and East Asia, in areas they are likely to overlap extensively with a number of fisheries; it is therefore imperative to obtain more information on current and projected levels of bird bycatch and effort in these fisheries in order to developing management strategies for the conservation of the east Australian and New Zealand populations of the flesh-footed shearwater.