Discarded fishing gear poses danger to wildlife

Published: September 4, 2019

Snapping Turtle with a lure in its body Photo courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

A loon found ensnared in fishing line near Logan Lake in British Columbia was saved by a driver who brought the animal to B.C. Wildlife Park. As reported by CBC news, the rescuers used an endotracheal tube to pull a fishing hook from the bird’s stomach. The loon survived the operation and was successfully released back to the wild. While this loon had a happy end to its story, animals that encounter discarded fishing gear aren’t always so lucky.

Nathalie Karvonen, Executive Director of Toronto Wildlife Centre, says that fishing lines and hooks are a common danger for aquatic birds and turtles. Swans, diving ducks, grebes, herons, painted turtles, and snapping turtles are just some of the animals that are admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centres and treated for issues resulting from entanglement or swallowing of fishing gear.

Karvonen said that Toronto Wildlife Centre dealt with a tragic case involving a family of loons and fishing gear last year. While zooming in to photograph loon family’s adult male, a woman observed that the bird was wrapped in fishing line. Toronto Wildlife Centre sent their wildlife rescue team to bring the loon in for treatment. “They were able to find and capture this adult loon — which is swimming and diving on a lake, so you can imagine it’s not an easy thing to do.” The loon had a hook lodged in its chest cavity near the heart, and although it was taken to the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph for surgery, it did not survive. A few weeks later, one of the young loons from the same family was brought in entangled in hooks and fishing line and also died.

It’s not alway easy to tell if an animal is suffering from an injury caused by a hook. Even if you can’t see any fishing gear, if an animal is behaving oddly or reacting slowly that’s a sign that something’s wrong. Karvonen recounts the recent admittance of a snapping turtle that was brought to the centre because it was sitting lethargically in a parking lot. Once an x-ray was taken of the turtle, staff were able to see a fishing hook deep in the turtle’s esophagus. After a trip to the emergency clinic for a difficult surgery, the hook was removed and the snapping turtle released.

Fishing line and hooks are durable, so they can pose a danger to animals in the wild for years. “The bottom line is you can’t leave your garbage around, which includes fishing lines and hooks,” says Karvonen. “When we were children at our cottage and my grandfather was teaching us how to fish, the rule was that if the hook got stuck in an underground rock, we jumped in the water and got it.”

Peregrine Falcon
Photo courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

If you come across an animal wrapped up in fishing line, Karvonen says to never cut the line and let the animal go. You won’t be able to tell if the animal has swallowed a hook, sinker, or fishing line that will cause problems down the line. The Toronto Wildlife Centre has a Wildlife Emergency Hotline you can call that can advise you on the best actions to take. And if you’re outside of the Greater Toronto Area and don’t know who to call, Karvonen recommends contacting your local vet clinic or humane society, who should be able to point you in the right direction.

Great Blue Heron
Photo courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

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