Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Invisible snares: Stray fishing line poses constant danger to seabirds

The pelican could've withered away like the rest. Mark Rachal reached into the mangrove branches and secured its wings, beak and feet. While Rachal held on, Melinda Spall approached the bird and saved it with a snip.

The young pelican was trapped in the mangroves in a tangle of monofilament fishing line, a hook in its neck. Motoring up to Dog Leg Key, a strip of mangroves in Boca Ciega Bay near the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, you would think that this nesting ground was simply a sanctuary. But laced among the mangrove branches were perhaps thousands of feet of fishing line, what Ann Paul, a regional coordinator with Audubon Florida, called "invisible snares."

While news of sewage releases into Tampa Bay waters and Red Tide have grabbed headlines in recent weeks, some locals focused Friday on minimizing the effects of another perennial problem for wildlife. When anglers cut their lines after a wild cast, or accidentally hook a bird, the line doesn't disappear. It stays.

Eventually, animals entangled in it die.

Five people with the Audubon Society and Tampa Bay Watch found at least 11 dead birds Friday on Dog Leg Key. Most of the remains were just leg bones and maybe a feather or two in a tangle of fishing line, dangling from a branch. One bird had just died recently and hadn't yet decomposed.

"They're just sitting in the heat dehydrating," said Rachal, a sanctuary manager for Audubon Florida. "It's a pretty nasty way to go."

The finds are nothing new. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tells fishermen that monofilament fishing line can last about 600 years.

A wildlife commission spokeswoman said the agency receives hundreds of reports of tangled up animals each year — anything from manatees to fish. Some animals, such as dolphins and sea turtles, have been found dead with fishing line and tackle in their stomachs.

This is the 23rd year Tampa Bay Watch and Audubon Florida have coordinated a bird nesting island clean-up. Volunteers and staff sweep into 35 different locations across the Tampa Bay area each year to comb through habitat. The cleanup is sponsored by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and Restore America's Estuaries.

This year's cleanup started Sept. 24 and ends Sunday. Spall, environmental specialist for Tampa Bay Watch, didn't have a count Friday on how many feet of line volunteers were able to reclaim so far, but she put last year's figure at an estimated 13,000 feet. That's on top of the estimated 1 million feet of line volunteers collected from the Tampa Bay area's 150 "Mono Tube" recycling stations last year.

The line is sent to the Berkley Fishing Conservation Institute in Iowa, which melts it so it can be turned into other plastic products.

On Friday, the search for line on Dog Leg Key got off to a slow start. Five people — four with the Audubon Society and Spall, with Tampa Bay Watch — got out of a 20-foot Kencraft Bayrider on the east side of the key, broke into two groups and headed west on either side of the strip.

After snatching a few strands of fishing line, the group found its first dead bird, or what was left of it. One bare leg bone dangling from a branch.

"This bird hung here until it died," Paul said plainly.

After the grim find, more followed.

"This stuff is just sitting here in the trees waiting for them," Paul said.

They found bags full of trash, fishing line and tackle.

Finding so much was good, because coming back empty-handed would've meant a wasted trip. But it was a sure sign there is more work to do to prevent stray fishing line problems in the first place.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8092. Follow @JackSuntrup.

Some tips

• Be knowledgeable about where you're casting. If you get snagged, try to bring back as much line as possible.

• Throwing fishing line away can still pose harm if it blows away or if scavengers get tangled up in it. The best thing to do is to recycle line in "Mono Tube" bins at boat ramps or drop it off at tackle shops that participate in recycling programs.

• Don't feed seabirds. The easy food encourages them to gather in places where the birds are more likely to get hooked. Feeding birds bony carcasses of filleted fish can cause harm, too, and encourage return visits to the same place. Throw fish carcasses away.

• If you hook a seabird, reel in slowly and don't jerk the line. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Hold the bird's head behind its eyes, hold its feet and "gently but firmly" fold its wings up against its body. Cut the barb of the hook and back out the hook. If the barb is still in the bird, push it through, cut it off and back out the rest of the hook. If you hook a pelican, make sure its beak stays open so it can breath.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Invisible snares: Stray fishing line poses constant danger to seabirds 09/30/16 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2016 9:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  2. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry

    Military

    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.
  3. Told not to look, Donald Trump looks at the solar eclipse

    National

    Of course he looked.

    Monday's solar eclipse — life-giving, eye-threatening, ostensibly apolitical — summoned the nation's First Viewer to the Truman Balcony of the White House around 2:38 p.m. Eastern time.

    The executive metaphor came quickly.

    President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump view the solar eclipse from the Truman balcony of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 21, 2017. [Al Drago | New York Times]
  4. Secret Service says it will run out of money to protect Trump and his family Sept. 30

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Secret Service said Monday that it has enough money to cover the cost of protecting President Donald Trump and his family through the end of September, but after that the agency will hit a federally mandated cap on salaries and overtime unless Congress intervenes.

    Secret service agents walk with President Donald Trump after a ceremony to welcome the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions the Clemson Tigers on the South Lawn of the White House on June 12, 2017. [Olivier Douliery | Sipa USA via TNS]
  5. After fraught debate, Trump to disclose new Afghanistan plan

    War

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will unveil his updated Afghanistan policy Monday night in a rare, prime-time address to a nation that broadly shares his pessimism about American involvement in the 16-year conflict. Although he may send a few thousand more troops, there are no signs of a major shift in …

    U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache near the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2003. Sixteen years of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan have left the insurgents as strong as ever and the nation's future precarious. Facing a quagmire, President Donald Trump on Monday will outline his strategy for a country that has historically snared great powers and defied easy solutions.  [Associated Press (2003)]