Volunteers work to clean up miles and miles of fishing line
Perhaps one of the greatest inventions for anglers is monofilament fishing line — the durable, almost invisible, inexpensive product that easily knots and is unbelievably strong. But this non-biodegradable product is frequently found littering popular fishing spots and has proven to be deadly for birds, turtles and other sea creatures.
Thousands of miles of discarded fishing line can be found along coastal areas, often tangling wildlife in inescapable snarls. Fishing line also is perilous to swimmers and boaters, who can get caught in the twisted twine.
Fifteen years ago, a fourth-grade class noticed discarded fishing line littering Mustang Island and Port Aransas, inspiring Texas AgriLife extension agent John O’Connell to start a monofilament recycling program. Through the program, recycling bins were constructed for anglers to safely discard fishing line waste. It was a limited program with inadequate participation and funding, and was frequently ignored by the fishing public. But members of the Galveston Bay Area chapter of Texas Master Naturalists have made this program a priority, Master Naturalist Rick Becker said.
Members call it the “Great Monofilament Tube Adventure.”
“Our goal is to make this program successful by changing behaviors, educating the public and encouraging participation,” Becker said. “The success will keep wildlife safe and our waterways cleaner.”
The first step for the group was to identify where recycling stations were located, Becker said. The stations are 4-foot-long PVC pipes attached to fishing piers or on jetties or bulkheads where fishing is popular. The pipes had small “Recycle Monofilament Here” signs, but the program wasn’t publicized enough to make an impact. They found 94 stations in the county, but many had been abandoned or never used.
The group photographed the stations, noted their GPS locations and entered the information onto Google maps. They redesigned signage — in four languages — to alert anglers it was imperative to put discarded fishing line in the recycling tube and not in the water or on the shore and beach.
“The intent is to make the information available so people can go to where the stations are,” Becker said. “This will be successful when fishermen get involved and there is peer pressure among that community.”
Next, the team set up a program to monitor the stations and follow up to empty them on a regular basis. There were no stations on San Luis Pass, a popular fishing destination, and some recycling posts were unattended and full. Team members enlisted the help of other organizations and foundations to help sustain the effort, he said.
Locally, the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund, Friends of Galveston Island State Park, Texas Audubon and Marathon Oil have participated in funding the program. Each station costs about $70 and volunteers need to be trained to retrieve the contents and deliver it to the recycling center.
Volunteers take the contents of the tubes to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service at the Carbide Center in Hitchcock, where the monofilament is cleaned, organized and then sent to Berkley Conservation Institute in Spirit Lake, Iowa, to be recycled into tackle boxes, park benches or fish habitats. Since 1990, the institute has recycled more than 9 million miles of fishing line, Becker said.
As an example of how bad the problem is, Becker and a team of Master Naturalists recently went to the Texas City Dike, a popular fishing destination. Eleven teams scoured sites along the dike, spanning 100 feet on either side, which represented less than 4 percent of the entire dike. Within two hours, they collected almost 60 pounds of line, which was either laying on the ground or snarled in the rocks lining the water. Initially, after removing 20 pounds of debris and cleaning the monofilament, the teams prepared 9 pounds of unsoiled monofilament for recycling.
“This points out the issue,” Becker said. “It just keeps killing and killing. Birds get entangled and starve. Turtles are beaching themselves with fishing line tangling their flippers. It is terrible for the environment.”
Moving forward, the group plans to make appearances at fishing tournaments, outdoor and other nature/environmental events and conventions, as well as beef up its social media and Facebook page to encourage participation. Members also plan to update the Google map page with recycling locations.
“Plastic pollution is such an intractable problem,” Becker said. “Fishing line can last up to 600 years in the environment. But people can physically wrap their arms around the problem and do something that can make a difference. And that’s huge.”