The dangers of discarded line

BY LIAM WIDDICOMBE

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An Ibis unfortunate enough to find itself entangled in discarded fishing line. Photo: Rowely Goonan

A day fishing by the beach may seem like a harmless enough activity for most, however according to Rowley Goonan of Wild Bird Rescues, the discarded fishing line and hooks that you may leave behind can pose one of the greatest dangers to native birds and wildlife.

Resulting in not only injuries, discarded fishing equipment like lines or hooks can wrap around a bird’s legs, wings or neck, leaving them unable to fly and even result in the amputation of the affected body part.

If left untreated this often leads to death.

Rowley said that natural threats aside, the greatest threat to native birds and wildlife came from fishing activities.

“Of the almost 500 rescues that I attended last year half of the injuries were caused by fishers – most including hookings (deliberate and accidental) and fishing line entanglements,” he said.

Entanglement usually resulted from a fisherman carelessly discarding unwanted fishing line on the ground; a foraging bird would walk through that line and get it entangled around its toes or legs.

Over time, the line slowly tightens and begins the slow process of amputating the affected body part.

This can lead to the bird suffering excruciating pain for months, and if it doesn’t die it will be left maimed for life.

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A magpie’s foot entangled in discarded fishing line. Photo: Rowley Goonan

This is why Rowley believes time is of the essence when it comes to reporting an injured bird.

“I work alone – it’s easier that way because most of my rescues are for ‘flight capable’ birds,” Rowley said.

“After more than a decade of catching, I’ve developed skills that allow me to operate alone and therefore quickly.

“Quick response is one of the reasons Wild Bird Rescues enjoys such a high capture rate of ‘flight capable’ birds.”

When asked what was involved in rescuing an injured bird, Rowley said it was all about locating and capturing the bird as quickly and as safely as possible, before any more damage could be done.

“If a bird has a fishing related injury it first has to be caught,” he said.

“That’s the difficult part.

“Then it will be de-hooked or disentangled and released immediately.

“When I get a call, I drop everything and go, otherwise the bird could fly off and be miles away in minutes.

“If the injury is severe the bird will be taken to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital for expert veterinary treatment and if it survives it will be released back where found.”

Most rescues can be completed in two to three hours, but at times it can take days or even weeks just to track down and catch one bird.

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If untreated many bird will perish due to being unable to fly or eat. Photo: Rowley Goonan

“Some of the most difficult rescues often involve raptors like osprey or kites,” Rowley said.

“These birds are apex hunters that only come to ground briefly, so when they get hooked or entangled it’s a huge challenge to catch them.”

However, if you are wondering what can be done to help minimise the potential threats of discarded fishing equipment, Rowley said it was all about the proper disposal of equipment and a hasty rescue if a injured bird is spotted.

“In the case of fishing related injuries, fishermen should not litter by dropping unwanted fishing line on the ground,” he said.

“Unwanted line should be incinerated with a match or a lighter, or be wrapped into a tight ball before binning, otherwise it will go to the rubbish tip and entangle birds out there.

“Fishers should also report any bird they accidentally hook, rather than cutting the injured creature free and allowing it to fly off with a hook embedded.

“These days nearly everyone carries an internet-connected mobile phone so the excuse, ‘I didn’t know who to call’ is no longer valid.”

All calls received by RSPCA, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, Wildcare and other rescue organisations concerning flighted birds on the Gold Coast are routinely sent directly to Wild Bird Rescues Gold Coast.

“As a young man I hunted, fished and speared,” Rowley said.

“I did things that I wish I hadn’t.

“As I matured I became disenchanted with causing suffering to wild creatures just for ‘sport’.

“These days I get the same enjoyment from hunting and catching injured birds with the added satisfaction of knowing that I save many lives.”

If you would like to assist this unique rescue service you can visit the Wild Bird Rescue donations webpage here.

If you see an injured or otherwise wounded flight-capable bird around the Gold Coast region you can contact Rowley on 0438 823 100 or the RSPCA on 1300 264 625.

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