Development of DNA markers to resolve uncertainties of seabird bycatch using feathers collected from dead seabirds

Polanowski A, Double M, MacDonald A, et al (2023) Development of DNA markers to resolve uncertainties of seabird bycatch using feathers collected from dead seabirds. In: ACAP - 11th Meeting of the Seabird Bycatch Working Group. SBWG11 Doc 12, Edinburgh, UK

Incidental mortality in fisheries is a major driver of population changes for albatrosses and petrels globally. However, inaccurate identification of impacted species can hinder monitoring efforts due to visual similarities of closely related species and/or degradation of specimens. Genetic methods can be powerful diagnostic tools, but require appropriate genetic markers and reference databases to identify the target species. A range of genetic markers were designed, tested and evaluated to assist in the identification of the albatross and petrel species listed in Annex 1 to ACAP and in Australia’s Threat Abatement Plan for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations. Analyses found that the combination of two genetic markers could identify 97% (n=35) of 36 target seabird species to either species (n=32) or sister species (n=3), while for one petrel species there were no reference sequences. Genetic methods provide a streamlined framework for the molecular identification of seabird bycatch in fisheries to corroborate and/or correct logbook entries, observer reports and audits of imagery captured by electronic monitoring systems.

That the Seabird Bycatch Working Group

1. Encourages the collection of feather or tissue samples from dead seabirds bycaught in fisheries.

2. Encourages the incorporation of genetic identification of seabird bycatch samples into fishery monitoring programs to improve the accuracy of species assignment.

3. Recommends Parties work towards creating a repository of known provenance samples and making these available to improve the accuracy and confidence in genetic data.

4. Recommends Parties work on developing and maintaining a curated reference sequence database to improve diagnostic species identification.