Fishing line discarded improperly can be fatal to wildlife

Spend enough time on the water, and you’ll probably run across a bird that has become entangled in fishing line or those plastic six-pack rings.

Three or four summers ago, I witnessed an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a pelican that had become tangled in monofilament line on the Red River below the Lockport Dam in Manitoba. The bird was along the shore, but attempts to reach it by boat were unsuccessful because the water in that area was too shallow and rocky to navigate by boat.

The pelican, doing what comes naturally, ran farther down the shoreline and soon was out of reach. It also was unable to fly.

We had loaded the boat and were just leaving for home when the incident occurred, so we never did see whether someone along the far shoreline was ultimately able to rescue the bird.

Chances are, though, that the story didn’t have a happy ending.

A news release in my email inbox Thursday triggered my memory of the encounter. I wouldn’t normally run news releases from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, but its message about reducing the risk of birds and other critters becoming entangled is relevant everywhere.

According to the commission, monofilament fishing line and fish hooks that are improperly handled or discarded can entangle animals, leading to injury and even death.

“We often find pelicans that died as a result of monofilament line entanglements hanging from trees and other vegetation,” FWC regional biologist Ricardo Zambrano said in the news release. “These birds often suffer for days before succumbing to injury or starvation.”

To prevent such senseless incidents from occurring, the commission offered the following tips:

n Properly dispose of monofilament line. If you have unwanted line, store it safely and securely until it can be placed in a recycling bin.

n Don’t leave fishing line unattended, as pelicans, seagulls or other fish-eating birds may be tempted to steal your bait.

n Avoid casting near trees, utility lines and other areas where line may get caught.

n Check your tackle frequently for frayed line that may easily break.

If you do accidentally hook a pelican, the release said, you should avoid cutting the line. Easier said than done with a bird the size of a pelican, but it also said you should “gently remove the hook if you feel confident you can do so without causing harm to yourself or the bird.”

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