Lake Erie, rivers no place for un-reel fishing line

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  • Trash is trash, and trash in the water is an especially vile brand of ugly. But certain forms of stream litter, or debris that gets tossed into our lakes, is much more problematic than others.

    Some refuse discarded in our waters breaks down quickly and disappears. An apple core will be gone in two months, and a piece of cotton rope will deteriorate in one to five months.

    Some of it sticks around. A plastic grocery bag can take up to 20 years to break down, while a tin can might need 50 years. But in terms of longevity, the undisputed champ and the most dreaded of the debris field could be fishing line.

    Regular monofilament fishing line, used by millions of anglers, takes 600 years to break down when discarded in our waterways. None of us will be around to see its natural demise.

    That kind of lifespan provides a mess of line pulled off a fishing reel and tossed in the river a lot of opportunities to tangle up the feet of a duck, snag on a boat motor propeller, or immobilize a shore bird.

    “Those things can harm our wildlife,” said Ava Slotnick of the Perrysburg-based Partners for Clean Streams, which combs the Maumee River each year in an effort to remove as much old line as possible. “We’ve found fish and birds that have died due to getting tangled up in discarded fishing line.”

    Plastic shrink wrap used to protect boats in the winter is being collected and recycled, keeping tons of the material out of landfills.
    Plastic shrink wrap used to protect boats in the winter is being collected and recycled, keeping tons of the material out of landfills.

    There is also a concentrated effort going on to keep the wads of old fishing line out of the river and the lake in the first place, by placing collection receptacles at marinas, boat ramps, and popular public fishing sites. A simple apparatus made of large diameter white or light green PVC pipe, the receptacles can hold massive amounts of discarded line, but are not intended to receive any other type of trash.

    Berkley, makers of the popular Trilene fishing line and Lightning Rod fishing poles, is a major participant in the recycling effort, through the Berkley Conservation Institute and Pure Fishing. The program got its start in the 1980s with sporting goods stores collecting old line as they replaced it on customers’ fishing reels, and then sent the used line to Berkley. A partner company took the used line and combined it with other recycled plastics such as milk jugs, and produced park benches and other durable materials.

    In the past two decades, Berkley has recycled more than 9 million miles worth of fishing line — enough line to fill a pair of reels for every angler in America.

    The project continues to expand, and old fishing line is now being collected at more than 17,000 sites. Berkley is using discarded fishing line and other recycled plastic materials to make artificial habitat called FishHab — a plastic structure that snaps together and resembles a crate with slots.

    This structure is attached under the water’s surface to dock pilings or piers to create complex habitat in lakes or reservoirs that lack such habitat. The FishHab attracts fish and encourages plant growth almost immediately after it is placed in the water, and provides the natural cover that is necessary for the growth of a healthy fish population.

    Another significant conservation project taking place around our waters is the Ohio Shrink-Wrap Recycling Program. It is an off-shoot of the Ohio Clean Marinas effort, which sought to get marinas involved in recycling the cans, bottles, etc., that collect en masse when boaters return from the lake.

    The folks running the program also realized that huge amounts of plastic were being dropped into the marina Dumpsters each spring as boaters removed the protective shrink-wrap from their craft. A 30-foot boat requires about 25 pounds of shrink-wrap for its winter cocoon, and with the majority of Ohio’s 400,000-odd boaters using shrink-wrap, it is easy to see how that material was quickly filling Dumpsters, and landfills.

    Receptacles for collecting used or discarded fishing line have been placed in marinas and public fishing sites.
    Receptacles for collecting used or discarded fishing line have been placed in marinas and public fishing sites.

    “Prior to this program, this stuff was all going into landfills in Ohio, as far as we know,” said Sarah Orlando, the Clean Marina Outreach Coordinator for the ODNR’s Office of Coastal Management.

    The group first partnered with Mondo Polymer Technologies located in Reno, Ohio, near Marietta, and that company picked up the used shrink-wrap from collection sites at certain marinas. Mondo uses the old plastic as a raw material to make durable, weatherproof guardrail blocks.

    “They had a need, we had a need, and it started a great partnership,” Orlando said. “They would take this material with a very long degradation life, and use it to help protect our highways.”

    But rising fuel costs have made that arrangement less attractive for Mondo, since its plant is located so far from the lake and most of the marinas, so the program has changed. Orlando is urging boat owners and marinas to stay involved in this vital recycling effort.

    By contacting her office, boat owners can secure an “EZ-Fill Bag” for just $5, and use that bag to recycle used shrink-wrap through a partnership with the Dr. Shrink Recycling Run Program. The fee covers the collection, transport, baling, and recycling of the plastic wrap, Orlando said.

    The ODNR’s Office of Coastal Management can connect marinas, recyclers and other interested parties to make the program work. Contact Orlando at the orlando.42@osu.edu email address, or at 419-609-4120.

    BIGGEST WEEK: The Biggest Week in American Birding festival opens Tuesday and runs through May 15. It is headquartered at Maumee Bay State Park and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory at Magee Marsh. There are guided tours, informal bird walks, workshops, seminars, lectures, vendors, and bird identification classes. For more information go to biggestweekinamericanbirding.com.

    CRAPPIE TOURNAMENT: The Toledo Yacht Club and Bass Pro Shops will be hosting a crappie fishing tournament May 17-18 at TYC. The adults-only event takes place May 17, and the kids-only tournament May 18. There will be crappie fishing experts on hand, as well as vendors and a display of the new line of Bass Pro boats. There will be prizes for all of the kids entered, and a cash prize for the tournament winner. The event will be dock fishing only — no boats allowed. For registration forms and information, including entry fees, visit Bass Pro or the Toledo Yacht Club, 3900 N. Summit St. Information available at toledoyachtclub.com, or by calling 419-726-3485. Space is limited and registration closes May 12.

    Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.