by John Hocevar
August 3, 2005
As fishermen and environmentalists battle factory fishing giant Omega
Protein in the western Atlantic, overfishing continues to take its toll on
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?