When I was a child, my family regularly went fishing, and if a line was snared on a rock or whatever, we thought nothing of cutting the line and moving on. What I now know is that those bits of fishing line and hooks that we so casually discarded are still there in the environment posing a deadly threat to various animals and birds.
A sobering fact, it takes 600 years for nylon fishing line to degrade and 50 plus years for stainless steel hooks to rust down.
Many of us are delighted to see our local ospreys, sea-eagles and brahminy kites in action. However, researchers from Griffith and Charles Darwin universities have identified litter from fishing tackle poses the most deadliest threat of all to our coastal birds of prey.
Of course, it is not just raptors that are vulnerable.
All seabirds and wading birds, all marine animals such as turtles, dolphins, sharks, dugongs and whales are caught in discarded nets and fishing tackle. And the result - if they are lucky significant injury but most often, a slow and painful death.
The numbers of casualties are shocking.
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In our area over any 12-month period FAWNA will receive more than 100 and often closer to 200 calls for individual birds entangled in fishing line and fish-hooks. During one 23-month period we received 362 calls seeking assistance for birds entangled in fishing line and hooks.
And these are the ones that we know about, the ones observed and called in by caring members of the public.
Many, many more will have died painfully in some obscure place and quite possibly the fishing line and tackle will then be back in the environment with the potential to entrap and kill again.
Fishing lures are meant to imitate fish, so any fish-eating animal will potentially see them as food and be tempted. Fishing line is often nearly invisible and therefore more potentially ensnaring.
And of course, discarded fishing line is light enough to be blown or washed into trees and bushes with the potential of entrapping non-marine animals and birds.
Tasmanian based scientists have estimated that that there are more than 13 billion hooks and 16 million kilometres of fishing line lost in our oceans from fishing vessels alone every year, and that estimation may be conservative.
The cumulative effect is mind-boggling.
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The capacity of fishhooks and line to cause severe injury to wildlife is extreme. Anyone who has accidentally stepped on a fishhook knows that it is designed to do significant damage.
Hooks can become embedded into skin, throats, eyes and beaks/mouths ripping horrific wounds. Swallowed hooks and fishing tackle cause internal injuries and poisoning.
Fishing line frequently becomes wrapped around limbs and birds and other animals attempts to remove it typically results in a tightening of the entanglement causing a painful amputation.
Slow starvation as well as infection is common.
In our area pelicans are particularly vulnerable but so are ospreys, cormorants, seagulls and even Magpies. Some birds become entangled in line that is caught up in trees and bushes, which leaves them dangling helplessly several metres up.
These situations are particularly distressing, not just for the animal concerned and the caring members of the public who call them into to the FAWNA hotline, but also the FAWNA volunteers as well.
They can also involve considerable risk to our volunteers who are attempting the rescue.
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High ladder work is often required but sometimes is not feasible because of the situation the bird or animal is in. For example, one of our volunteers spent several hours attempting to rescue a cormorant that was hanging from a branch some eight metres up in a tree and about four metres offshore.
The bird had obviously ingested fishing tackle that hooked into its gullet and the loose line had snared on the tree branch leaving it dangling helplessly metres below.
There was no way to access the branch the line was caught from the tree above the bird on or underneath from river.
A long pole was eventually fabricated from various bits and pieces and a fishing knife taped on the end. Finally, the line was cut, and the bird flew away accompanied by its mate who had stayed nearby throughout the ordeal.
This is not a happy ending story however as the fishing tackle still caught in its gullet meant an inevitable and painful death.
What can we do as fishing folk and members of the public?
If you do accidently hook a sea bird or other animal:
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