Sunday, October 24, 2021

Fishing Lines and Birds: A Tragic Encounter

Submitted Photo | A black skimmer with barbed hook through its beak. If you find an injured bird, contact the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at 239-262-2273.

On January 3rd, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Von Arx Wildlife Hospital reported that they had 33 brown pelicans currently recovering, and in just one week, 10 pelicans were admitted with hook and line injuries that happened at the Naples Pier.

They are urging all anglers to consider using barbless hooks. The damage to the fish caught is reduced and if a bird is accidentally hooked, removal of the hook will be easier and most likely less damaging to the bird. 

According to the Conservancy, fishing hooks and lines cause a range of injuries for birds from torn pouches to lacerations and puncture wounds. At the Naples Pier, the majority of injuries occur when novice anglers use fishing lines that breaks when a bird struggles to free itself. Never cast your line if birds are flying nearby.

Brittany Piersma, shorebird steward for the Audubon of the Western Everglades, is frequently seen on Marco’s central beach carrying a scope. Her primary role is to educate the beachgoers about the importance of sharing the beach with our wildlife. Piersma also surveys the migratory flocks, counts the species, and looks for banded birds. She also looks for any sick/injured birds and transports them to the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital, if she is able to catch them.

Piersma also documents the types of trash on the beach, especially those that are harmful to wildlife such as fishing lines, barbed hooks, lures, discarded nettings, metal leads and weights—all deadly to birds and wildlife when not properly disposed of. 

According to Piersma, sharing the beach is vital to the survival of bird population year-round, but especially during the Winter Migration. Marco is in the peak of Winter Migration and urges recreational anglers to cast away from flocks of birds.

Monofilament lines can tangle around the bills, feet, wings, legs and necks of birds, which can result in a slow death. A barbed hook can embed itself in the bill, throat, wings, feet causing injury that leads to slow death. Many one-legged birds are due to fishing line entanglement.

Birds can peck on a shimmering plastic lines left on the beach, mistaking it for food; lead sinkers when ingested are toxic both to marine and birds. For nesting birds, entanglement or a hooked bill is a death sentence to the chicks as they often starve to death waiting for their parents. Or if the parents return to the chicks with trailing fishing line, the chicks could become entangled, too. 

According to Piersma, if you accidentally hook a bird, do not cut the line but slowly reel the bird in from the water. If you find injured or orphaned native wildlife, contact the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at Conservancy of Southwest Florida at 239-262-2273. Their hours are 8 AM to 8 PM seven days a week.

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