Bonnie Anderson and Diane Weinstein will never forget the day they found a little American coot being strangled by fishing line off a dock on a small lake in their community. One end of the line was caught under the dock and the other end was around the bird’s neck so that it could not swim away.
There have been other incidents — a grebe tangled in fishing line found along a major road, a female mallard dangling by a wing that was caught in fishing line from a tree. “We were finally able to cut the line, but she went underwater and never came up. We think she became further entangled under the water,” Bonnie said.
They’re heartbreaking stories from one community — and they are, unfortunately, not alone.
With spring comes fishing season, and that means more wildlife and pets can be entangled in fishing line.
Dr. John Huckabee, a veterinarian at PAWS in Lynnwood, treats animals hurt by the fishing line around Green Lake and elsewhere — even from people’s yards, where they sometimes hang ornaments with the line. Songbirds and owls get them wrapped around their necks.
“All too frequently, it causes a tourniquet effect around a leg, a toe, a foot, sometimes around wings,” Dr. Huckabee said. “The line is very strong and when, say, a gull gets it wrapped around a wing, it can cut through skin of the wing and render them flightless. They can experience tourniquet necrosis and amputation of the limb.”
He testified last year in Olympia on behalf of legislation that Bonnie and Diane spearheaded — an effort to establish a statewide monofilament fishing line recovery and recycling program.
A story that came up during testimony was of a harbor seal pup whom PAWS had rehabilitated and released with a flipper tag and a satellite transmitter to track her location. The transmitter signal disappeared following several weeks of movement throughout Puget Sound, and the pup’s whereabouts were a mystery — until a diver found the seal entangled in fishing line and drowned under the Edmonds fishing pier.
The line is transparent in water and ensnares birds, mammals, fish and reptiles. Even pets are affected, with vets having to retrieve fishing line and hooks from their stomachs.
“Carelessly discarded monofilament fishing line takes a terrible toll on wildlife,” Bonnie said. “They suffer prolonged and painful deaths when their bodies or extremities become entangled. This often results in slow strangulation, starvation, loss of limbs or infections.
She and Diane began their project four years ago in a presentation to their homeowners association’s board of directors. They agreed to place a fishing line collection bin on the dock where the little American coot had struggled. A sign explains the need to protect wildlife and properly dispose of fishing line.
Their next step was reaching out to state officials. State Sen. Mark Mullett was interested, and they worked with him to draft the bill for which Dr. Huckabee testified. The bill didn’t make it to a vote, but Sen. Mullett got funding for the program. At the same time Bonnie and Diane found success at city and county levels. The Department of Natural Resources also has been very helpful, they said.
By the end of 2017, fishing line collection bins were installed at 93 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) water access locations, 18 piers and ports, 25 state parks, 42 city and county parks, including 19 King County locations. Approximately 42,000 feet of monofilament fishing line has been removed from bins at the WDFW locations.
Bonnie said the state of Florida pioneered this type of program, which also is in effect in 38 states.
The city of Edmonds in Washington recently installed five boxes on its deep-water fishing pier.
“We wanted to find a way to highlight the problem, and when Bonnie approached us and then provided all the plans for how to make the bins, it made it really easy for us to call attention to the fact that these plastic products people use for fishing really need to be kept out of the marine ecosystem,” said Jennifer Leach, who runs the Edmonds Beach Ranger Program.
People are putting their fishing line in the bins — along with coffee cups and Coke bottles and cigarette butts, she said.
As vegans, we don’t fish and so are not leaving fishing line in the water. But we can help by contacting our communities’ parks, piers and recreation centers to ask them to install recycling bins for fishing line. In the interim, those organizations can ask people to pick up line and put it in covered receptacles. It’s important that they be covered, so that birds will not try to use the line for nesting material.
“It has to be recycled,” Bonnie said. “If it’s put in the trash, before it is covered at landfills wildlife can become entangled and birds can carry it off.
Bonnie designed decals explaining that putting the line in the trash isn’t the best solution.
She has requested the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to post the fishing line recycling program and bin locations on their website. This will help to promote the program and responsible disposal of fishing line.