Fishing line is the leading cause of death for adult brown pelicans, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and a major hazard to other coastal birds and wildlife. To help get fishing line out of our waterways, Tampa Bay Watch and Audubon Florida partner each year to clean up throughout Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties.
This year’s 28th annual fishing line cleanup is a self-led, two-week process that began October 4 and will last through October 18. Volunteers use their own vessels to travel to their assigned habitats and remove fishing line.
“The primary goal…is to reduce the threats posed by fishing gear in the environment,” Jeff Liechty, a Coastal Biologist for Audubon Florida said. “When a bird gets accidentally hooked, or a fishing line gets caught on mangroves or piers, and anglers cut the line, that line stays in the environment and birds can get tangled and end up dying of dehydration.”
Even the most experienced angler can contribute to fishing line debris in the ecosystem, according to Liechty, but you can take precautions.
“Cutting the line may be the easy thing to do, but we urge anglers to clear their gear,” Liechty said.
If a bird is caught in a fishing line, an angler should treat the bird how they would a fish, with caution. Reel the bird in, remove the line and the barb before releasing it back into the wild.
“If you hook a bird and cut the line, it will fly back to its nest trailing that line, which can get caught in the tree and not only kill that bird,” Liechty said, “but others in the colony as well.”
Though the focus of the cleanup is to remove fishing line from habitats, Liechty said volunteers must sometimes rescue birds as well.
“Birds dying in this way is senseless, and removing fishing line from nesting and roosting islands is important to conserving these iconic Florida birds,” Liechty said.
For more, visit tampabaywatch.org/volunteer-main/scheduled-projects.