Discarded Fishing Line: A Grave Threat to Wildlife

Duval Audubon Society member Shane Carroll recently shared this remarkable story with us:

Red breasted Merganser Rescue 20200105 Shane Carroll DSCN9416"Today I was at Huguenot Memorial Park at low tide. I was on the family beach and noted a Red-breasted Merganser just 50 feet across the pond on a sandbar. It seemed to be just sitting but then it struggled to stand. There were gulls approaching and agitating it. I set my binoculars on it to see that there was fishing line all tangled up around its bill, wings and neck.

I knew I couldn't cross the 50 feet without getting stuck in the muck. Just then I noticed a young man walking through the reeds toward the bird. This young man slowly approached the bird, picked it up and started to unravel the fishing line. He then put his mouth to the line in an effort to cut it.

Red breasted Merganser Rescue 20200105 Shane Carroll DSCN9426I had a pocket knife on me so I started the walk around the pond to the northern side where the young man and bird were located. It took about 10 minutes to get there and the bird had most of the fishing line removed by the time I got there. The young man said when he got to the bird the fishing line was attached to a hook and weight that were buried into the sand preventing the bird from moving more than a few feet.

Red breasted Merganser Rescue 20200105 Shane Carroll DSCN9438Alan Troyer of Tennessee was visiting Huguenot for the first time. He said he had left his pocketknife in the car so he was glad to see me. The last part of the fishing line was wrapped very tightly around the bird's neck and not visible. I felt through the so soft feathers to locate each twine that needed to be cut and once that last one was snipped the bird knew it and gave me just a few seconds to take this photo of Alan holding it."

Kudos to Alan and Shane for making the effort to free this innocent creature from what would assuredly have been a slow and miserable death. Audubon North Carolina estimates that "...more than 1 million shorebirds die every year as a result of marine debris. 320,000 of those deaths are said to be attributed to discarded fishing equipment, including lines and hooks." And not just birds: according to Audubon, "...littered line hurts marine recreation, too. It wreaks havoc on boaters’ propellers and along with birds and fish, can endanger scuba divers. A diver in South Carolina died a year ago after fishing line got caught in her breathing gear."

Carelessly discarded fishing gear is literally a death trap for birds and other wildlife. Monofilament line is essentially invisible in the water, making it nearly impossible for wildlife to avoid. Not only that, but it takes centuries to biodegrade, continuing to pose life-threatening dangers to seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and fishes.

In an effort to reduce the environmental damage caused by discarded fishing line, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program has installed over 1,600 fishing line collection bins around the state at boat ramps, fishing piers, marinas, tackle shops, and many fishing supply stores. If you see discarded fishing line, please help protect our imperiled birds and other wildlife by using the bins. If you can't find one, check the MRRP website to find out how you can properly dispose of it.

If you like to fish, please dispose of used line responsibily. Cutting it so that it just falls into the water or onto the beach is guaranteed to maim or kill wildlife.

Thank you for considering your impact on wildlife and the environment while you're enjoying all the outdoors has to offer.

--Carol Bailey-White, Vice President