(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)
Fishing line probably doesn’t top any lists when it comes to problematic and pervasive litter, but it’s exceptionally dangerous for wildlife because they can get caught in it when it is not properly disposed of. And as you may see when visiting the preserves and other popular fishing spots, fishing line often is not thrown away properly and is instead seen tangled on trees, bushes and other structures.
The toll fishing line takes is not easily known. Most research and statistics focus on ocean animals, but these problems plague freshwater waterways as well. Unfortunately, we’ve seen plenty of proof in our own preserves. In March 2018, a pelican was found tangled in fishing line at McKinley Woods-Kerry Sheridan Grove. It was rescued but later had to be euthanized because its injuries were too severe to recover. Just a month later, an egret was found dead, tangled in fishing line, hanging from a tree at Lake Renwick. In May 2019, a robin became entangled in fishing line at Isle a la Cache Preserve and died. In March 2020, a great blue heron was found hanging from a tree at Rock Run Rookery. And those are just the animals that we’ve been made aware of.
It’s not just fishing line that’s problematic for animals. Fishing nets and hooks also injure and kill untold numbers of animals every year. A Canada goose was rescued at Monee Reservoir in June of 2020 with not only fishing line wrapped around its leg and cutting into it, but there also was a hook that had gone completely through the leg. Without any help, the goose could have lost its leg or, even worse, its life.
This problem is particularly frustrating because the Forest Preserve District provides monofilament recycling receptacles at its most popular fishing lakes. This seems easy enough, but as we’ve seen time and again, it’s not. Instead of these monofilament containers being full of fishing line, we’ve found all sorts of other items stuffed inside, rendering them useless for anglers who want to use them responsibly.
The fishing line that is collected from the containers is sent to the Berkley Conservation Institute in Iowa to be recycled. Since 1990, the conservation institute has collected more than 9 million miles of fishing line through the recycling program. That’s enough to wrap around Earth more than 360 times!
Recycling the fishing line is the perfect solution, because like other plastic products, monofilament lasts a long time — about 600 years, according to Leave No Trace.