Clean up your own old fishing line

By Steve Estes

For those that have lived here a while, this will be old hat…been there, done that, heard it all before…kind of stuff.

For some of our newcomers, and definitely our visitors, treating our wildlife with respect and watching out for their safety needs to become a priority.

The actual attacks on wildlife, such as the throat-slitting of pelicans months ago, are the rare occurrence, and generally our law enforcement personnel are quite good at keeping this type of thing under control.

But what isn’t under control is the dismissal of safety for some of our favorite wildlife.

Drive across any bridge in the Keys where a fishing platform exists and peruse the power lines that run parallel to all such bridges. What you’ll see is yards and yards of tangled monofilament line hanging from the lines. And in many cases, you’ll see a dozen birds sitting on a wire, adjacent to, or above, that tangle of monofilament line.

It may not be as rare an occasion as we believe that a bird manages to get tangled in that hanging fishing line, causing great distress to the bird.

Logistics make it pretty near impossible for the average fisherman to retrieve line when it wraps around an adjacent power wire. Luckily we have willing partners at Florida Keys Electric Co-op and Keys Energy who will come out and clear monofilament from power lines.

But human fishermen can control where they leave monofilament that doesn’t wrap around a power wire.

And all too often, they don’t, just leaving the line where it falls.

That is what causes the safety hazard to birds, particularly our pelicans.

Pelicans are, for the most part, friendly birds. They will hang around fishermen hoping to snag a quick bite of either leftover bait or the occasional undersized fish that gets tossed back in, and yes, sometimes they’ll grab a fish actually on the line and cause some consternation.

But the biggest problem becomes when disinterested fishermen leave large tangles of monofilament floating in the water, or just drop it on the bridge or shoreline, and our pelicans managed to get tangled up in it because they’re going after leftover bait that is also strewn around with no concern for the environmental issues it creates.

Once our pelicans get tangled up in the line, they have a hard time flying or feeding. It’s not unusual to find dead pelicans tangled up in fishing line where the line got caught and trapped the bird, or where the line wrapped the bird and cut it in its efforts to free itself.

There are some easy ways to ensure that we are not the cause of the unnecessary death of a friendly pelican:

  • Properly dispose of monofilament line. Store unwanted line safely and securely until it can be placed in a recycling bin.
  • Don’t leave fishing line unattended, as pelicans may be tempted to steal the bait on the end of the line.
  • Avoid casting near trees, utility lines and other areas where line may get caught.
  • Check tackle frequently for frayed line that may easily break.
  • Do not feed pelicans or other wildlife, since it encourages them to approach fishing boats, piers and anglers. If available, use fish-scrap repositories. If they are not available, discard fish scraps in a garbage can or at home.

If you do accidentally hook a pelican, don’t just cut the line. The protruding hook can snag fish the bird might be trying to feed on, or wrap the pelican in flight and bring it to Earth. Either instance can result in a pelican starving to death.

Fishing line can also be a death sentence for sea turtles and manatees as they get entangled beyond their ability to extricate themselves and cause cuts, even lop off pieces if the situation becomes serious enough.

It is up to us to take care when dealing with ancillary wildlife while pursuing Florida’s favorite past time.

Often, we fish because we’re looking for a cheap, delicious meal. We wouldn’t want a bird to rob us of our meal. We’re sure the birds don’t want us to rob them of their meal, or their life, because we can’t police our trash.

Pick it up. Put it in a proper receptacle. Respect our wildlife.

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