According to the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP), an innovative project dedicated to reducing the environmental damage caused by discarded fishing line, monofilament fishing line lasts up to 600 years in the environment where it entangles wildlife, is eaten by animals including birds, fish, manatees and sea turtles, and is hazardous to boaters and swimmers.
Most monofilament fishing line is non-biodegradable, Unfortunately, fishing line cannot be put into our household recycling bins. However, the good news is there are recycling programs where you can take used line to bait & tackle shops and other locations.
Entanglement Fact Sheet
Monofilament is non-biodegradable and can remain in the marine environment for over 600 years. From 2000-2004 over 37 dolphins have been stranded with monofilament entanglements or fishing hook ingestion.
Between 2000 and 2004, 166 sea turtles were entangled in fishing line in Florida. One turtle rescued had ingested approximately 590 feet of monofilament.
From 1991-2005 of the 655 manatees rescued for injuries, approximately 7% of all manatees rescued were due to entanglements in monofilament. Monofilament caught around the flipper of a marine mammal or sea turtle can result in the loss of the flipper or death due to infection and/or a weakened health state.
Feeding marine mammals may encourage them to approach humans, which increases their risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear or being injured from a boat collision.
Researchers have documented over 60 fish species that have swallowed or become entangled in marine debris.
Thousands of seabirds are rescued annually due to hook and line entanglements.
Between 1999 and 2000, over 250 seabirds were rescued due to hook and line entanglements and of those, 92 died.
So we know that monofilament fishing line can be dangerous to the environment and why, but what are other dangers that irresponsible anglers can cause?
Plastic Worms used to lure a fish to a hook don’t break down and often cause blockages in the intestines leading to the death of a fish. Estimates suggest that soft plastic fishing lures and worms are responsible for as much as 20 million pounds of plastic left in fishing waters every year. (Do you remember that torn plastic worm you tossed into the lake?.. it's still there.)
Lead is used in many fishing sinkers as well as some tackle. For hundreds of years we have known that significant exposure to lead is poisonous. More recently we have learned about some of the more subtle health effects of exposure to small amounts of lead, especially among young children. The EPA has recommended that children avoid handling lead fishing sinkers and adults wash their hands after handling lead. A growing body of scientific research has been documenting fatal lead poisoning among aquatic birds. Studies have found that these birds die when they ingest small fishing sinkers and jig heads, mistaking them for small pebbles.
Soft Plastic Baits, such as worms, craws, lizards, tubes, frogs, etc., are commonly lost while fishing. Fish and other wildlife eat the discarded soft plastic lures and are often unable to either digest or pass the soft plastic, many times causing a blockage of the digestive tract which then causes the animal to get sick due to malnutrition or poisoning, and eventually over time, dying. This has been documented in cases of fish and water birds by wildlife biologists upon autopsy, as well as anglers.
If traditional soft plastics are chosen, it is better to look for plastics that don’t have phthalates or PVC, as these are currently under scrutiny in various governmental and scientific circles due to their potential harm to humans as well as wildlife.
How to be a Smarter, Greener Angler
Use Bioline instead of nylon monofilaments, fluorocarbon, Spectra and Dyneema fiber lines. Where Bioline will degrade in roughly 5 years the nylon monofilaments remain for 600 years and fluorocarbon longer and Spectra & Dyneema even longer. Bioline represents a 99 percent reduction in the active life of the line in the environment according to David A. Bourgeois – an area agent with the LSU AgCenter Wooden bobbers are a biodegradable alternative to plastic bobbers. These floats will last a lifetime, but eventually break down which is better for the environment. Plus, because they float upright, it’s much easier to detect the bite of fish who take the bait from the bottom. The wood float will lay on its side, letting you know that a fish has hit from below. Food Source Lures makes biodegradable molded baits to use instead of traditional soft plastic lures. Food Source lures are molded protein, so not only do they catch more fish than plastic lures, they are biodegradable and digestible. Plus, they are easier to keep than live bait. Circle hooks are a great choice for fishing with live or dead bait for larger fish like bass, catfish, walleye, pike or saltwater species. You don’t set the hook - the unique shape of these hooks automatically catches in the corner of the fish’s mouth almost every time to make for easier release, and eliminating deep "gut hooking" of the fish.• More and more companies are making bio-soft molded lures that are biodegradable, and many anglers are moving to using them for their scent advantages. These types of baits are commonly substituting not only for anglers fishing with lures, but also for anglers who traditionally fish with live, dead, or cut bait. Ironclads are now on the market, and these super-tough baits are much less likely to come off the hook unintentionally, but still have a supple feel like traditional soft plastics. Use biodegradable fishhooks that disintegrate upon prolonged exposure to biological tissue and/or an aqueous environment. Refrain from using glow sticks for night fishing if possible. If not use anon- toxic glow stick and make sure to attach correctly so it is stable and doesn’t release into the water. (see article below)
The same glow sticks that lighten up raves and Halloween may be tempting thousands of sea turtles to their deaths, a new study says. Used to attract fish to hooks on miles-long lines, the lights are apparently also irresistible to the reptiles. Commercial longline fishing operations are known to contribute to the decline of sea turtle populations.
Now researchers say that simply changing the type of light sticks could perhaps reduce the number of accidentally caught turtles. The study is the first to demonstrate that sea turtles are attracted to the lights used by commercial longliners to lure swordfish and tuna. The paper appears in this month's issue of the journal Animal Conservation. Once the turtles are in the vicinity of the longlines, there's a high chance they will bite on the bait and become snagged," said study co-author John Wang of the University of Hawaii. "They can also get entangled in the fishing lines."
In 2000 alone, an estimated 200,000 Loggerhead turtles and 50,000 Leatherbacks were killed on longlines, according to the report. The World Conservation Union lists both species as endangered.
(Related: "Reopening Hawaii Fishery May Harm Sea Turtles, Experts Say" [April 1, 2004].)
To investigate whether visual stimuli attract sea turtles to longlines, Wang and colleagues used electronic tracking devices to monitor the movements of loggerhead turtles as they swam in a large laboratory tank. "We put various commercial light sticks at the edge of the laboratory pool to see if the turtles would swim toward them," Wang said, "which they did." The turtles swam toward yellow, blue, and green chemical glow sticks as well as orange LEDs.
An LED is a small type of light bulb usually used in groups. The bulbs are increasingly found in consumer applications such as car brake lights and flashlights—and in a more expensive, longer-lasting type of glow stick. "Turtles might mistake the light sticks for glowing jellyfish," said co-author Ken Lohmann, from the University of North Carolina. "But it's equally plausible this is just an instinctive reaction to the unnatural continuous light,” Lohmann said. Searching for Solutions Light sticks are integral parts of some longline fisheries," study co-author Wang explained, so limiting their use will not be a viable management solution. Instead, researchers are working closely with industry leaders to develop modified glow sticks that would still lure swordfish and tuna but be less attractive to turtles.
One possible strategy, Wang said, "is shading the light sticks to direct the light downward. Sea turtles use the top portion of the water column, while most target fish are caught as they move upward from deeper water." Pulsing lights are also being tested to see if they are less attractive to sea turtles. Fisheries in general are the biggest concern for sea turtles," said Roderic Mast, vice-president of Conservation International and co-chair of the World Conservation Union's Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Research like this that focuses on ways to limit the impact of particular fisheries is going to help us do a better job of solving these problems." If fish is brain food then fish smarter.