By Brianna Forte
When either commercial or recreational fishermen improperly dispose of fishing gear and it ends up in the ocean, these tools can continue to catch and seriously harm fish, crustaceans, marine mammals, sea turtles, and sea birds. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, these abandoned traps and fishing lines can continue to “ghost fish” for years once they are lost under the water’s surface.
For sea turtles especially, fishing line proves a huge threat. According to Foster Folly News, because clear is the common color of fishing line used in Florida, it is difficult for animals to see and results in “them easily becoming entangled, resulting in different types of injuries.” The Clearwater Marine Aquarium explains on their website that for sea turtles these injuries can mean getting tangled in the line, which can cause flipper amputations, and swallowing the line, which can cause digestive problems.
The fishing line that proves the biggest issue in Florida is known as monofilament, or mono, fishing line. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission defines monofilament line as a, “single strand of material that is made of a strong, flexible plastic that is clear or tinted many colors.”
According to FWC, monofilament line usually ends up in the ocean in one of two ways. The first is by the line getting snagged in the ocean and breaking when it is pulled, leaving the remaining line in the water. The second way monofilament line ends up in the ocean is through misplacement of the line either from blowing out of trash cans or simply being discarded directly into the ocean.
Monofilament proves to be a huge obstacle due to its coloration and composition. Because the line is clear, birds and sea turtles have difficulty seeing it and easily become trapped. Because the line is plastic, it will not biodegrade once introduced into the ocean and may be a threat for hundreds of years depending on environmental conditions, according to the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program.
So, what if you’re an avid angler, or simply a sea turtle supporter, that wants to help with this issue? The first step would be to make sure you are properly disposing of your fishing line. If you are using monofilament, use a marked recycling tube to dispose of the line. These containers can be found across Florida through the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program. To find the closest monofilament recycling container, you can look on a map of stationed recycling containers throughout Florida.
In addition to the outdoor monofilament recycling containers, monofilament can be recycled in special cardboard recycling boxes, which can be found in some Florida tackle shops.
The old monofilament line collected through the recycling containers and collection boxes at tackle shops is sent to the Berkley Fishing Program. You also can send discarded line directly to Berkley: Pure Fishing America (Berkley), 1900 18th Street, Spirit Lake IA 51360-1041. Berkeley then melts the old line down into raw plastic pellets that can then be recycled for other plastic products that include tackle boxes, spools for line, fish habitats, and toys.
If these options aren’t available to you, you can work to install your own monofilament recycling containers at your local fishing spot. If you’re feeling particularly handy, you can create your own monofilament recycling container following directions from this video created by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Fishermen can take many steps to protect sea turtles. First things first, make sure you are properly disposing of your fishing line, monofilament or otherwise. If you are disposing of braided or wire fishing line, FWC recommends cutting the line into 12-inch or smaller pieces before placing them in covered trash bins. This will ensure that if the line does blow out and end up in the ocean it will not provide a direct threat to sea life.
Other fishing tips to protect sea turtles recommended by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association include never abandoning your fishing gear, using barbless circle hooks, inspecting gear to avoid unwanted line breaks, avoid casting in areas where your line can get snagged on sharp branches or buildings that could result in lines breaking in the water, changing locations if you notice a sea turtle or marine mammal in the area or indicating interest in your bait, and recycling your fishing line and properly disposing of your trash.
But above all else, the most important thing you can do to help prevent sea turtles getting tangled is spreading the word. The more people that know, the more people that can contribute to cleaning up fishing line and educating anglers to protect Florida’s treasured sea turtles.
For sea turtle emergencies in Brevard County, please call the STPS hotline at 321-206-0646.