Discarded fishing lines: what can we do to protect wildlife?

I’ll preface everything that I’m going to say with the following: while I’m not the biggest fan of fishing as a hobby, I don’t begrudge people that practice it, and I’ve known many fishermen and -women who behave in a respectful way and whose presence is almost certainly a net positive for the sites they frequent. A lot of them have been incredibly friendly, enthusiastic about nature and willing to share their local knowledge.

Most of the spots I go birding are also popular freshwater fishing spots. My area is, for many reasons beyond the scope of this post, not the cleanest. A lot (although not most) of the detritus I find is from people fishing and abandoning food packaging, beer bottles and tobacco buckets. I try to pick up as much as I can (especially when there’s an empty bin less than 5m away…) but my number one worry is something else: discarded fishing lines.

I can understand cases when the line snags and breaks in the distance, on a branch in the water, and there’s little you can do to retrieve it. However, per outing I pick up at least 5 of them that are easily accessible on the shore, tangled in low-lying plants, sometimes dangerously close to nests.

The results for wildlife are devastating (warning, some of the following links are fairly graphic):

Those are only the cases that I could photograph where I’ve directly seen the fishing line. I regularly see birds with injured or missing limbs in a way consistent with that cause. I’ve managed to rescue a few of them and I’ve talked with some people who have done the same. Injured birds regularly fall prey to roaming cats or dogs off their leash. It might not be the biggest threat to wildlife overall, but it seems like such an easily-avoidable one that it angers me to no end.

I will be contacting the local associations for wildlife protection in my area, unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any rescue centre near me. This might actually motivate me to get the driving licence I’ve been putting off for more than 15 years now.

What are some actions you have either taken or seen put in place to help alleviate this problem? If you practice fishing yourself, how do you deal with that issue and how could we make it easier for you?


I did a beach clean on the weekend and had to sort out several tangles of fishing line. I’ve also cleared up quite a few from my local pond. The local fishing club do clean up now and them but you can walk around now and see floats stuck in the weeds and trees with unknown lengths of line attached to them. The pond connects to a nature reserve so I think they should be doing more to keep the place clean and safe in order to keep their privilege of fishing there.
I used to go fishing quite a lot so I’ve probably lost my share of line over the years but I was always taught to clean up as much line as possible. Hopefully I’ve cleaned up more than I’ve lost. Most of the reason I gave the hobby up is that I didn’t think enough fishermen showed any respect to the fish or to wildlife. The prevailing attitude in the UK is still to kill wildlife to protect stocked fish rather than to create beautiful, wilder places to go fishing. People would rather sit around a muddy hole in the ground than set aside part of the pond for wildlife that would benefit the whole ecosystem including the fish. Part of this though is done to reduce potential snags for fishermen. Trees are removed or cut back, underwater structures are removed and water plants are heavily controlled. Great news to reduce lost fishing line but not great in creating habitat. There’s a bit of a balance to be struck I suppose.


I agree that there are a ton of issues with discarded fishing line. There are definitely some initiatives to help with this, both beach cleanups and creation of disposal/recycling stations. See examples:

I think probably more important than the actual recycling is just the visibility of the stations to encourage fisherpeople to actually retrieve line whenever possible and keep it out of the environment.


It’s a real problem, as you say the places more dedicated to fishing tend to have very barren banks and that definitely has an impact (for example I can pretty much tell right away if I have any chance to spot little grebes in an area and it’s pretty much a match for this). At first I thought jetties were a good solution, but in the end people end up casting towards where there’s food (and thus fish), and that’s often towards the trees/uncleared banks. It’s a shame, you can tell there’s been thought and money put into it but it just ends up creating perverse incentives.

Thank you for this! A cursory search led me to this for the UK, but unfortunately nothing in France, all I find seems to be focused on fishing nets (for example). I understand it might be hard to reach an amount that is economically viable for recycling for fishing lines, but your examples seem to suggest that the starting cost for local collection is very low and it could possibly be good publicity for recycling firms or even sports retailers to take in a batch every so often as long as they don’t have to bear the costs of collecting and centralising. Certainly food for thought!


i, too, get angry when i see wildlife killed or injured by fishing line, especially since it can be a particularly gruesome way to go. unfortunately, i think as long as folks are fishing with monofilament, there’s going to be a problem of discarded fishing line to deal with, whether it’s because of accidents, ignorance, laziness, etc.

from an economic perspective, i can’t think of any good ways to incentivize or punish individual offenders effectively. so then i think you would require cleanup of the fishing line at a cost that is trackable and borne by the general population or via fishing line taxes (not just through volunteer efforts). once you’ve established a baseline cost, then you can try various ways to reduce that cost, such as education, shutting down fishing spots, etc.

i think you start with properly funding cleanup first because that’s always going to be required, regardless of how effective other efforts are. just for example, the “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign to stop littering in my state is considered one of the most effective public campaigns ever, but in the grand scheme of things, it reduced cleanup costs from $2.33 per person to $1.90 per person – meaning that even as effective as it was, there was still a lot of trash left out on the roads, and someone still had to pick it up at the end of the day.


As an angler I always bring home all the waste line I can (mine and others) but what I would like to see, that would make it easier, is fishing line recycling receptacles at popular lake access points, a few spots used to have these and then they disappeared. If you throw line in the trash, dicing it up into little pieces too short to entangle anything is what the conservation department here recommends

I dislike taxes as a solution, some people here fish for food because of poverty, and I think adding to the cost of fishing line will make things harder for them while not really affecting the amount of litter much, the problem is not people discarding too much line, but not properly disposing of what they have to discard

What I’ve always heard is that mono takes 600 years to break down, fluorocarbon 1,000 and braid 1,000,000 So I would not encourage a switch away from mono for environmental reasons (thought I do find that I lose a lot less braid becasue it is stronger, and I can go years without replacing it)
13 years ago I tried a brand of biodegradable fishing line, but it was so stiff I could not get it to stay on the reel long enough to even get the reel in the car. Development of usable biodegradable lines would be great, this would stop both entanglement and microplastics


Fishing line is terrible and just another indicator of either some people’s ignorance, stupidity or total disrespect - I am trying to accept the distribution of human nature for what it is. When I go into the field I carry a reusable plastic bag that one gets at checkout from the supermarket. I primarily concentrate on plastic bottles, bags, balloons, etc., with aluminum cans are next in priority - I typically disregard paper, cardboard and glass. It is not uncommon for me to have to overfill a bag with this trash. I then dispose of it at a waste barrel. I feel this is a good use for reusable plastic bags. I also have the phone number of a local parks maintenance person and sometimes I will come across large objects, such as plastic tables and chairs which I kids, or maybe homeless, have left. I drag these to a convenient place where the city can collect them and message my contact. I do not disturb active campsites.


Did you mean to address this specifically to me? It looks more like a response to the OP, and I’m wondering if you accidentally hit the reply button on the most recent comment instead of the reply button on the original post

A little patrolling by an officer might help. I have yet to be asked for my fishing license or even see an officer when out fishing in NC (about 25 years). I bank fish from next to boat ramps to some pretty odd locations and I did the same growing up in MA. In MA, I would have officers find me a few times every year. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere.

It only takes a couple of bad actors to mess up an area for everyone. I always return with pockets full of line and other garbage found while out fishing. I’m pleased to see used line receptacles at most access areas. Now I don’t have to cut it up or melt it.


Thank you all for your feedback and ideas! I’ve started to plan things out, I think for at least one of the sites I had in mind it shouldn’t be too hard to get a pilot going for receptacles. I’ve got a few potential contacts, the biggest question mark right now is the recycling itself, including potentially having to separate/clean, but there’s a MSc in materials science at the local university with a few modules that fit, so I’ll get in touch with them to see if that might be an interesting master’s project if any of their students are up for it.

My biggest worry right now is receptacles being filled with other kinds of trash, which might complicate things, so I’ll need to take a closer look at existing programmes to see how they deal with that.

I’ve had that discussion with a game warden at a larger and less managed place, the hunting federation being the ones to manage that site. Enforcement is a real problem, he gave me some insight into how in that case politics and funding allocation seemed to play a huge role.


You definitely will get other trash in the receptacles, but I think getting the fishing line out of the environment and contained (even if it is just as trash), is a win.


this really is the way that the biggest change will be made, not just for funding enforcement, but for funding cleanup. there really needs to just be a small portion of every fishing regulatory agency department budget that is carved out specifically for cleanup, and if it’s not enough, then folks need to contact their government officials to try to increase that allocation.

there have been receptacles removed in my area because of this problem. it’s easy to put up a receptacle, but folks don’t always consider that if you’re going to put up one of these, you really need to commit to ongoing maintenance and community outreach efforts.

ideally before you even put a receptacle up, you need to go out to the site to do a cleanup. while you’re out there, talk to the folks using the site about how they handle fishing line and whether they would even be open to using a receptacle.

then if you decide to put up a receptacle, decide how often you plan to empty it. whatever that period is, come out again that period after you did your initial cleanup, and do a second cleanup. the amount of line in your second cleanup becomes your baseline against which you measure the effectiveness of your receptacle. then at the end of that cleanup, put up your receptacle, and reach out to the folks using the site to at least let them know that they have a receptacle now and how to use it.

then every time you empty the receptacle, keep track of how much line you’re collecting, and do more community outreach, including keeping track of how many people know about the receptacle, how many know how to use it properly, and how many are actually using it. if folks aren’t using it for some reason, figure out why not, and address the problem, if you can.

it sounds like a lot of work, but to me, this is the bare minimum maintenance and community outreach that needs to go along with putting up receptacle. the data you collect from this and from subsequent general cleanup efforts is really the only way you can tell for sure if the receptacle is effective or if you’re just wasting your time.

after all, the responsible fishermen were likely already disposing of their fishing line as responsibly as they can, regardless of whether your receptacle was there or not. so the point of your receptacle isn’t to collect the fishing line that they would have otherwise disposed of just fine on their own. instead, your receptacle + all your outreach efforts really need to convert as many others as possible to responsible fishermen.


In my area, organized cleanup meetups where someone can certify volunteer hours to courts and schools are often overrun with volunteers - the economy in volunteer time is odd, in that there’s a cohort of folks who are mandated to accomplish volunteer work but often ill-suited to many of the things that need to be done.

My sense is that if you have the people-management skills to be the volunteer coordinator, you can in fact get people to do litter picking up work, willingly and at reasonable volume. The trick is that volunteer management is legitimately difficult.


I seen where a child left containers at docks for unwanted fishing line and he has been very successful and is up for the Cox award. It is an environmental group that funds projects for different categories. Check it out and possibly consider adding containers on every dock in your area and encourage fishing vessels to leave tangled or unwanted fishing line. I see it helping a lot in the areas he frequents. Good luck and I hope this suggestion will be helpful in reducing fishing line in lakes, rivers and the ocean. Have a beautiful day and take a deep breath. Hugs


We have personally found entangled wildlife, despite there being receptacles readily available at most of our recreation areas around our local reservoir. There is fishing line everywhere. I try to get it when I can, but don’t have a boat, and a lot of it is inaccessible. I used to do beach cleanup and part of our job was emptying the fishing line tubes if we chose to. It’s really just a matter of putting something there and asking for volunteers. Many of us would pick it up anyway, but it can actually be recycled, according to the tubes they’ve installed. I’ll try to share a photo. A flaw in the design is wasps love to next in them, but not too often.

There are awful people of all kinds. I’ve had people clearly out fishing pull over and thank me for cleaning up. And there are non-fishing recreators who leave all sorts of deadly trash. Smashed whiskey bottles are the worst for the cleaner upper. A super bad gash from those is why I stopped. I was really beginning to hate people. But I agree that fishing line is the worst for wildlife. Maybe I’ll head out for that this evening. Thanks for bringing it up.


I just wanted to say thank you for these resources! This is such a timely topic, as just this past weekend I went on a whale watch for the first time, off of Cape Cod. It was absolutely incredible and amazing and awe-inspiring-- something I’d wanted to do for a long time. My awe and excitement was tempered a bit when we observed a humpback calf, still with its mother (named Lollipop), with scarring from fishing line. The naturalist on board told us that many, many whales have such scarring or are getting entangled in monofilament line. I had no idea previously it was such a huge problem.

I just contacted my local Audubon Society to inquire about how I can get started putting up some receptacles at one of my local beaches and offered to assist with monitoring and collection as well. I walk there frequently and pick up so much trash as well as monofilament line. Our wildlife deserves so much better.


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