Between 2002 and 2015, these 'streamer lines' helped reduce seabird by-catch in Alaskan fisheries by 78%..
It sounds like the most miserable of deaths. A seabird sees a buffet of bait beneath the water, and takes a dive to feast, only to get caught in a fishing boat longline and dragged underneath to drown. As Nature reports of Alaska's rare albatross and other birds who meet this awful fate, "Every year, hundreds of thousands are accidentally hooked and dragged to the depths of the ocean, where they drown.'
It's obviously a terrible thing for the birds, and it's not great for the fisherman either. WWF found that Russia’s largest longline operation was losing nearly $800,000 a year in lost bait and catch as a result of diving birds.
But there's a brilliant (and cheap) fix: Streamer lines. Like scarecrows of the sea, Smithsonian reports that the idea came from a fisherman in Japan, who found that by "flanking the end of his fishing vessel with streamer lines the birds shied away from his wake."
Nature explains that in Alaska, Ed Melvin, the Marine Fisheries Senior Scientist for Washington Sea Grant, and his colleagues used bright orange plastic tubes above the water to keep the birds away, to tremendous success. Between the years 2002 and 2015, this simple trick has helped to reduce seabird by-catch in Alaskan fisheries by a significant 78 percent.
"The measure has even prevented the annual death of around 675 albatrosses," notes Nature, "among them the short-tail albatross (Phoebastria albatrus), a rare and protected species [pictured above] once thought to have become extinct."
I felt some initial concern that those plastic tubes might easily end up becoming plastic ocean pollution, but given Melvin's various positions – he is a member of the U.S. Endangered Species Act Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team and serves on the Seabird Bycatch Working Group of the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels – I'm guessing he and his colleagues are keeping the pollution potential in mind.
And in the meantime, thousands and thousands of birds are being shooed away from a dreadful watery grave. Not bad for some cheap plastic streamers...