Watch the Line!

Rick Lewis -- This Western Gull with a fishhook caught in its bill will have trouble catching and eating food and may starve to death.
Rick Lewis -- This Western Gull with a fishhook caught in its bill will have trouble catching and eating food and may starve to death.

Watch the Line!

Alameda’s long, accessible Bay shoreline offers ample opportunity for recreational fishing. At some times of the year and in some places, the fishing can be excellent. Many fisherfolk use monofilament lines on their fishing poles because it’s a versatile and amazingly strong line.

Unfortunately for the environment, monofilament is very slow to degrade; the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that it takes 600 years for monofilament to degrade in the environment. That means that every single piece of monofilament that has been discarded in the environment is still out there — unless someone has picked it up. Fluorocarbon and braided lines can take much longer to degrade.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that more than one million birds die each year from marine debris, including discarded fishing tackle as well as a wide variety of other discards. Often birds are ensnared in discarded fishing lines, which can impair the bird’s ability to find food, swim, fly, find a safe refuge, and take care of its young. A bird often starves if the line wraps around its neck or accumulates in its stomach. If the line impairs flight or swimming or immobilizes the bird by tangling it up with a stationary object, the bird’s ability to find food or avoid predators is greatly diminished and it is likely to die. Some fishing weights contain lead which, if swallowed, can cause lead poisoning. Hooks are another hazard— they can puncture birds’ bills, wings, or other parts, and if swallowed can cause damage to the bird’s internal organs. Even if the bird is moving around after it gets tangled, the encounter is likely to harm the bird. Discarded fishing lines can also endanger reptiles, small mammals, and fish.

Anyone who fishes, or just frequents the shoreline, can help by picking up and recycling any bit of discarded fishing tackle lying about. At the same time, it’s useful to pick up other trash, especially plastic, as discarded plastic in the environment generally is problematic for wildlife.

Other ways to help remove the hazard:
• Removing any tackle snagged in vegetation if possible, reporting it to the ranger if not.
• Removing all hooks from fish. 
• Before leaving a fishing spot, looking around the area make sure there are no dropped hooks, lines or other gear and collecting them along with everything else to leave no trace.
•Making sure the weight of the line is appropriate for the fish.
• Replacing monofilament line regularly, as it can become damaged or brittle over time and have a greater chance of breaking.
• Seeking out and trying biodegradable fishing line — there are products available.

Monofilament fishing line is readily recycled; recycling receptacles can be found in many of Alameda’s most-used fishing spots. According to the California Division of Boating and Waterways, recycling receptacles can be found in Alameda at: Main St. Parking lot (at Navy Way), Encinal Fishing Pier, the end of Tideway Drive (reached from Ballena Blvd.), two along Ballena Blvd (one across from Club Nautique and one at the point), two at Crown Beach (both shoreward of the Crab Cove Visitor Center), Alameda West Marine store (South Shore), near the Bay Farm bicycle bridge, and two on Harbor Bay Parkway (along the shore, one near Peet’s pond and one near the restroom). Only used fishing lines should go in the recycling receptacles, not other tackle.

If there is no convenient recycling receptacle, collected line can be sent to Berkley Recycling at 1900 18th St., Spirit Lake, Iowa 51360. The Berkley Conservation Institute reports that with the help of anglers, it has recycled more than nine million miles of fishing line, enough line to fill two reels for every angler in America.

It only takes one line discarded carelessly or snagged in a tree to entangle and kill wildlife. All removal of discarded line helps save them.

Linda Carloni is a member of the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, the conservation committee of Golden Gate Audubon Society for the City of Alameda. Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve works to protect wildlife and its habitat in the city of Alameda. To join us, email

Rick Lewis   Abandoned monofilament fishing line and weights pose serious risks to Brown Pelicans and other birds that feed on fish in the Bay.