What I saw made me sick. A pelican was hanging by its wing, completely tangled in fishing line. Upon further inspection, we noticed a fish hook stuck in its beak also. With a complete team effort (me holding the bird, Greg removing the hook and line, and Rik cutting the line off its wing) we freed the bird from this death trap and released it. Unfortunately for a few others, we didn’t get there in time.
“Sometimes people suck,” said Greg. I couldn’t agree more. We removed more line - as much as we could reach - to only find three more dead pelicans. The three of us pondered the outcome for our new friend, hoping he would regain his strength and fly off. We spent about half an hour removing more line, and could only speculate where it had all come from. The Skyway fishing pier (the largest in world) would be my first guess. It’s very close to this island, and with the amount of fishing that takes place there and the large amount of bait that is attracted to the pier, it wouldn’t surprise me that pelicans are getting hooked. While this is purely speculation on my part, I would guess that once hooked, instead of reeling the bird back up to the pier anglers are just cutting the line and letting the bird fly away. Again, just speculation on my part. I do know that they have used fishing line collection points out there, but I guess anglers feel like they are doing the bird a favor by cutting the line and letting it fly off.
Fast forward a few weeks: I’m fishing the last tournament of the Paddle-Fishing.com’s Challenge Series,“Spooning the South Shore”. Anglers could only use the two spoons provided by Aqua Dream Living. I paddled one mile to an area that I have been fishing, and set about working the area with the spoons. Just before 9 am, I hooked up with a really nice fish. I felt a couple of head shakes, and then “pop” – the leader was frayed, like someone hit it with a belt sander. I cast my last spoon out and “BAM”, I got another hit. A little bit of drag runs out, then “SNAP”. “What the @#$%!!!!!” Another big fish had chewed through my leader, and just like that I’m out of the event - no more lures.
What does this have to do with dead birds and discarded fishing line? Suddenly finding myself with some extra time on my hands, I went back to the bird island and what I found made me sick. Yet another pelican was hung up in the mangroves. Without my partners there for support, I covered up (I’m a bit of a germophobe) and headed in to try to get this bird unstuck. Just as I was climbing into the tree, the pelican popped free, landed in the water, and thankfully flew off. I went to work removing all the used fishing line from the entire island (as much as I could reach). This small island has turned into a bird killing field; I found eight dead birds, mostly pelicans, and this isn’t counting the three we had found a few weeks back; one was banded and in an obvious spot.
It wasn’t all bad though; this island is a roosting place with lots of nests and a variety of sea birds there.
The bottom line is this: discard your used fishing line in a recycle container if available. If not, cut it up into small pieces so it cannot cause an entanglement trap. If you do hook a bird, DON’T cut the line and let it fly off. Capture the bird if possible, and remove the entanglement or call a rescue organization in your area. We owe it to the wildlife to do everything in our power to protect them from a slow and agonizing death.