Humans who discard fishing line provide the landscape with a lethal device that keeps on killing – studies have shown monofilament line can take up to 600 years to break down in the environment.

Unfortunately for wildlife in Missouri and elsewhere, fishing line is involved with catching more than fish.

This is the time of year fishing activity increases around Missouri. This year, the stress and worries caused by the coronavirus has also led some people to seek solace by grabbing their fishing poles and heading for the area’s lakes and streams. While you’re enjoying the great fishing opportunities this state has to offer, one thing that’s important to remember: If you have to cut your fishing line because it’s knotted or snagged, take those pieces of line with you when you leave. Leaving the line behind could create a deadly hazard for the wildlife and aquatic creatures that needs your fishing area more than you do.

Discarded fishing line has long been a problem for animals that frequent locations where humans like to fish. Anglers, canoeists and others who recreate along the state’s waterways have long been aware of this problem. In recent years, social media’s ability to distribute pictures on a broad basis has brought this issue to a much wider audience. As a result, it’s easy to find pictures of birds and other animals that have either died or been injured because they became entangled in fishing line.

Humans who discard fishing line provide the landscape with a lethal device that keeps on killing – studies have shown monofilament line can take up to 600 years to break down in the environment.

Discarded fishing line can pose problems for many types of wildlife. Because a variety of bird species frequent stream banks and shorelines, they are frequent victims and, thus, provide many examples of the problems caused by discarded fishing line. Birds that get tangled in fishing line will struggle and this frequently tightens the line to the extent that it cuts into legs, feet, necks, wings and other body parts. This can lead to serious injury or death.

Even if the line does not tighten enough to cause serious injury, it can restrict movement by decreasing the range of motion of legs or wings. This can make it harder for the bird to forage and harder to escape predators.

When fishing line becomes tangled around a bird’s beak or bill, it can lead to starvation. Birds that ingest fishing line may eventually starve, too, because the plastic in their stomach restricts how much food they can digest. Sometimes birds use fishing line to build nests and this can also have fatal results when the young hatchlings become entangled in the line as they grow and get more active.

Remember, birds, turtles and other animals that live in and around the water don’t have hands and fingers and can’t use tools to free themselves from fishing line. When they get tangled, they usually stay tangled. If you keep the remnant bits of snipped line that are the refuse of getting hung up, getting tangles on your reel or tying on different lures; it guarantees that those pieces of fishing line will not pose problems for animals in the future.

It should be pointed out that many anglers dispose of line in responsible ways. Berkley, a popular manufacturer of fishing line, states that it has recycled more than nine million miles of fishing line since 1990 – a definite sign that some anglers are disposing of old fishing line in an appropriate manner. It’s also common to find anglers that have, somewhere on their boats or in their garage, large wads of discarded monofilament line that are the remnants of many past fishing trips. That, too, means many anglers are doing the right thing with their old fishing line.

However, the entangled animals that keep being found are clear signs this is a problem that’s still occurring. Some marinas and fishing areas have receptacles where anglers can dispose of fishing line. Information about where to drop off recycled fishing line can also be found online or at a number of stores that sell hunting and fishing equipment. If you choose to throw your fishing line in the trash at home, make sure you cut it into small pieces first. Incineration of old fishing line at home is another option, just be mindful of the fumes.

Missouri’s Stream Team program encourages monofilament recycling and has information about how stream teams can get fishing line recycling bins for their areas. This information can be found at

And, of course, when you’re fishing, remember to follow all current health guidelines. These include:

Avoid crowded places.

Stay at least 6 feet apart from others.

Stay home if you’re sick.

Bring water, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Be considerate of others you may encounter when you’re out.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.