Streamer lines on a fishing boat stop seabirds getting tangled

Bright orange ‘streamer lines’ dangling from Alaskan fishing vessels deter seabirds, slashing their risk of being caught and drowned. Credit: Ed Melvin/Washington Sea Grant

Conservation biology

Cheap fix saves thousands of seabirds a year

Streamers on Alaska’s fishing fleet prove a boon to rare albatross and other bird species.

A cheap, simple and effective measure is helping to prevent countless seabirds from dying as accidental by-catch of Alaska’s longline fisheries.

Longlines offer a succulent buffet of bait. But rather than finding a free lunch, birds diving underwater to steal bait often find themselves caught in a death trap. Every year, hundreds of thousands are accidentally hooked and dragged to the depths of the ocean, where they drown.

In an effort to reverse this trend, Edward Melvin at Washington Sea Grant in Seattle and his colleagues strung bright orange plastic tubes above the water to shoo away the birds. They report that between 2002 and 2015, this visual ‘fence’ helped to reduce seabird by-catch in Alaskan fisheries by 78%.

The measure has even prevented the annual death of around 675 albatrosses, among them the short-tail albatross (Phoebastria albatrus), a rare and protected species once thought to have become extinct.