Imagine having a tranquil canoe trip interrupted by the sight of a small, yellow warbler suspended from a branch, totally entwined in discarded fishing line. This is the scene that Justin Metz, a former member of the Temagami Lakes Association’s (TLA) board of directors, saw on the Mattawa River, and it prompted him to take action. With the Temagami Lakes Association (TLA), Metz created two projects in 2014 and 2015, the TLA Fishing Line Recycling Program and the TLA Lead Tackle Exchange Program, to combat the negative effects that fishing can have on the environment. These programs show how cottage associations can promote positive environmental change that is also in the best interest of anglers and cottage communities.
Discarded fishing line poses a danger to wildlife because it can snag and entangle animals. Because monofilament fishing lines are composed of plastic, a cut line could last for centuries in the natural environment, trapping wildlife all the while. Fishing line can take over 600 years to decompose, says Metz. He began researching ways to easily recycle fishing line.
An American company, Berkley Fishing, provided a solution. “They’re one of the largest manufacturers of fishing line and tackle in the world,” says Metz. Berkley Fishing runs a fishing line recycling program: they take back old fishing line, and transform it into artificial habitat structures that can be placed in the water to benefit fish species like bass, perch and sunfish.
Metz and the TLA created fishing-line recycling posts at boat launches, to make it easy and convenient for fishers to recycle line. The project was a success, and the TLA ended up receiving from Berkley Fishing several fish habitats that were placed in the lake in areas of high disturbance. Metz says the program showed that “you can recycle this line and it can be made into something great rather than just rotting in the wilderness for 600 years or in a landfill close to your cottage.”
Following the success of the TLA Fishing Line Exchange Program, Metz began looking for other ways to encourage more environmentally-conscious angling. One aspect of fishing that can have severe consequences for wildlife is the use of lead-sinkers. They are particularly hazardous for loons; because loons eat tiny pebbles to help digest their meals, they can accidentally ingest a lead sinker lost by an angler. “If you were to see one of these lead sinkers right next to a pebble at the bottom of a lake, there would be not telling the difference, especially if you’re a loon,” says Metz.
Lead poisoning is not a pleasant way to go. Loons that ingest lead suffer as their digestive system breaks down and they lose mobility.“It’s not like they need to ingest pounds,” says Metz “One lead sinker can have the ability to kill.”
Why do anglers use lead sinkers in the first place? “It’s cheap and it does the job,” says Metz. But a number of alternative sinkers on the market are growing in popularity. Tungsten, bismuth, steel, and tin sinkers are non-toxic substitutes to using lead.
To help anglers make the switch from lead tackle to alternatives, the TLA Lead Tackle Exchange Program allowed people to come into the TLA and exchange their lead tackle for non-lead tackle, free of charge. The funds to purchase the replacement tackle were raised by the TLA. Metz would take the returned lead tackle to a facility in Kitchener to be properly recycled.
Metz says that because loons are so beloved, people were excited to participate in the TLA Lead Tackle Exchange Program. At one point the program was returning hundreds of pounds of lead tackle.
“Education was a really powerful tool in a lot of these programs,” says Metz. For cottagers and fishers looking for pristine habitats and good fishing, understanding how fishing line and lead sinkers can negatively impact environments is the spark that can inspire a change in fishing technique. Metz says that if fishers know “about the destructiveness of fishing line and lead sinkers, if they have that power of knowledge, they will change their habits.”