As fishermen and environmentalists battle factory fishing giant Omega Protein in the western Atlantic, overfishing continues to take its toll on ecosystems worldwide.

In Western Australia, local officials recently sought to draw attention to the albatross, a spectacular and highly endangered bird known for it's large wingspan and impressive migrations. Eighteen albatrosses were affixed with radio transmitters, to enable enthusiasts to be spectators, and often bettors, in the birds' "race" from the island of Tasmania to South Africa.

It now appears that all 18 birds starved to death in route. Ironically, one objective of the "Big Bird Race" had been to highlight the vulnerability of albatrosses and other fish-eating birds to long-lining, a fishing practice that involves trailing hooked and baited lines up to 75 miles long. Longlining reportedly kills hundreds of thousands of birds each year, including large numbers of endangered albatrosses. At the same time, factory fishing trawlers from as far away as Ireland seek to ply Australia's waters, in direct competition with albatrosses and other sea birds.

Meanwhile, Houston-based Omega Protein, with it's large fleet of spotter planes and factory ships, is getting nervous. After years of bullying regulators into allowing Omega to take as many fish as they want, things may finally be about to change. On August 17th, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will consider putting limits on factory fishing for menhaden. Will they listen to the hundreds of fishermen and environmentalists who showed up at public hearings and thousands more who faxed or emailed comments, or will they listen to one company with a proven record of taking as many fish as they can regardless of the cost to coastal ecosystems or the people who depend on them?

Stay tuned.

John H