If you have ever enjoyed a day of fishing along the Texas coast, then you know the thrill you experience when your line goes tight. Unfortunately, the same line that can bring so much joy can also cause a lot of harm when abandoned. Anglers use a variety of types of fishing line, but monofilament is the most widely used because it is inexpensive, strong, flexible, durable, and nearly invisible. These same qualities also make improperly discarded monofilament hazardous to boaters and wildlife.
An unexpected encounter with abandoned fishing line can sure foul a boater’s nice day on the water. When fishing line gets caught in the propeller, it quickly wraps itself around the prop shaft. If left unchecked, this can break the inner seal that keeps gear lubricant in and the outer seal that keeps water out. Ultimately this can destroy the bearings and gears. It’s a good idea to regularly check your boat’s prop and remove any stray fishing line that may have become entangled.
As for wildlife, all five species of sea turtles that visit the Texas coast can be seriously harmed by discarded fishing line. These five species are all listed as either threatened or endangered and include the leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead, green, and Kemp's ridley. Young sea turtles tend to seek shelter and feed in the flotsam (i.e., floating seaweed, like Sargassum, and other floating objects). Water currents and wind tend to accumulate many different kinds of marine debris within the flotsam, including monofilament, thereby increasing the chances for entanglement. This entanglement can cause decreased swimming ability, disruption in feeding, serious injuries, and even death.
Starvation is, surprisingly, one of the most common causes of mortality associated with monofilament for sea turtles. The line wraps around the neck or accumulates in the stomach, preventing the animal from eating food. The line can also immobilize the animal by becoming wrapped around their legs, or by entangling them to stationary objects.
In addition to sea turtles, birds can also become entangled in monofilament. Some birds can experience secondary entanglement when they catch the “fish that got away” that still has the hook, leader and line attached. The unsuspecting bird gets caught on the hook and slowly entangles itself in the line. Every year birds migrate following the same pathway from their northern breeding grounds to their warmer, southern wintering grounds. With two major migration routes running through Texas (the Central and Mississippi Flyways), the Texas Coast is a haven for migratory birds. Because of this, entanglement and the resulting mortality can have a major effect on overwintering bird populations.
What can you do to help? Securely stow your spent line until you find an appropriate recycling bin or dispose of it with your household trash. Do not dispose of any fishing line in outdoor, open trash bins. Opportunistic birds can become entangled while seeking an easy meal. Also, open bins allow the line to blow away. This can contribute to “ghost fishing” where the line continues to catch and entangle wildlife and aquatic species for many years. So, by properly disposing of spent line and retrieving your own or someone else’s tangled fishing line that you come across, you can help prevent costly boat damage and prevent injury to wildlife.
You can also help by reporting any animals you find entangled in fishing line. For sea turtles call the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network at 1-866-TURTLE5 and for marine mammals call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-800-9-MAMMAL. For other wildlife go to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/rehab/list/ to locate a wildlife rehabilitator near you.Also, did you know fishing line can be recycled if sent to a specific recycling center? Because it is made from a different type of plastic resin and requires a special recycling process, it cannot go into your household recycling bin. However, there are special recycling bins available at some fishing piers, jetties, boat ramps, and tackle shops participating in the Texas Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP). This program was established in 2004 by The Texas Sea Grant College Program to bring awareness of the impacts of monofilament line and to reduce the amount that ends up in the environment. Since the MRRP began, over 2,700 lbs. of monofilament have been recycled. To find out where a recycling bin is located near you, go to: https://mrrp.tamu.edu/binlocations.html.