National Geographic : 2007 Dec
ALBATROSSES CAN WANDER TO THE ENDS of the Earth. Each of us can help ensure they never go farther than that. hooked while trying to steal the bait before the line sinks, they drown. Albatrosses also crowd be hind vessels dragging trawl nets, where slicing ca bles can strike their long wings. Free lunch it isn't; albatrosses get killed faster than they can breed. Brothers has worked on the problem with fishermen, surviving fire at sea and a vessel sink ing. "Fishing is hard, monotonous work; thou sands of hooks baited, deployed, and hauled per day," he says. "If fishermen have to do something extra to save a bird or a turtle-if they don't have an easy option that costs nothing-it won't hap pen. You have to make conservation easy." They have. Brothers and Eric Gilman, of the Blue Ocean Institute, are collaborating with fishermen to sim ply add weight to the lines and set them from the side of the boat instead of from the back. With side-setting, baits sink beneath the hull, out of birds' reach. Other measures include dyeing bait dark blue and setting lines at night. The result: Over the past ten years the Hawai ian fleet's kill of all seabirds dropped 97 percent. "But Hawaii's efforts won't be enough," Broth ers says. He's seeking worldwide standards for longlines. Weighting lines would probably fix 80 percent of the problem. There's progress elsewhere, too. In Falklands waters, a single boat might kill as many as 140 birds in one day-until recently. Now long liners and trawl netters must use bird-avoidance measures such as "streamer lines" and "bird cur tains," which dangle from the boat and prevent birds from getting at baited hooks or colliding with net cables. Over the past few years, bird kills there dropped 99 percent for long-liners. In much of the vast circumpolar Southern Ocean, longline bird kills in areas managed under the 24-nation Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) declined from 6,589 in 1997 to just two in 2006. These numbers don't account for many boats fishing illegally, or in areas not covered under CCAMLR. Albatrosses circumnavigating the world still interact with many boats uncon cerned about birds or law. Some fishermen have 112 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * DECEMBER 2007 even been known to catch albatrosses for food. What the successes do show is what's now possible. Groups such as Southern Seabird Solutions, BirdLife International, and Brazil's Projeto Albatroz are also working hard with fishermen to close the gaps. But fishermen aren't the only ones who can improve things. Seafood lovers' choices decide what fish will get caught and what fishing meth ods will find market favor. Consumers can help by being selective. For instance, because Pata gonian toothfish ("Chilean sea bass") is heavily fished and some is caught illegally, most conser vation groups recommend avoiding this fish, since it's hard to tell where it's coming from. But South Georgia's Chilean sea bass fishery is well managed, and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) now rates it as sustainable after managers there tackled the seabird problem. (In the U.S. you can find it at Whole Foods Market and else where-just be sure you see the MSC logo on the package.) Sean Martin, whose Honolulu company Pacific Ocean Producers operates and services fishing vessels, says, "If environmentalists pub licize a problem, the whole industry gets a bad reputation. So if we develop a way of keeping birds off our bait and we're doing it profitably, other countries take note. We can go to a fisheries conference and say, 'Look folks, we're doing all this stuff and we're still making money, and keep ing the environmentalists' heat off us all.'" Albatrosses helped save Ernest Shackleton during his heroic lifeboat trek to South Georgia Island to summon rescue for his stranded crew. The first thing they did upon landing was to stew some fledglings. Albatrosses now need us to save them. Albatrosses can wander to the ends of the Earth. Each of us can help ensure they never go farther than that. O i Fly Like an Albatross Get a bird's-eye view of elaborate albatross greeting and courtship rituals, and explore how these birds are able to fly so efficiently in an interactive graphic at ngm.com.