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Help seabirds off the hook


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000

If you fish, sooner or later you will hook a seabird.

The first reaction of many anglers is to cut the line. Out of sight. Out of mind.

And unless the bird is hooked in the wing, it probably will fly off as if nothing happened. But when the bird lands, trouble starts.

All it takes is a gentle breeze to wrap the line around a tree limb. The bird will try to fly but discover it can't. It might take weeks, or maybe months, but sooner or later the animal will starve to death.

The body will decompose but the line will remain, strong as the day it came off the spool. Sooner or later, it will snag another victim.

So what do you?

Start by picking up and disposing of old fishing line. Even a small piece can kill.

If you hook a bird, don't just cut the line. Follow these hints from the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary:

Reel the bird in slowly.

Ask another fisherman for help. (One person should hold the bird while the other works on it.)

Use a landing net and lift the bird carefully.

Grasp the bird's bill. Do not shut the bill completely. Open it a crack so the bird can breathe.

Restrain the bird by folding its wings flat against the body.

Cover the bird's head with a towel or large cloth. (The darkness calms the bird and the towel protects your hand.)

Locate the hook, push it through the skin until you see the barb. Cover the barb before cutting to prevent it from snapping off and injuring someone. Cut the barb off with a wire cutter and back the rest of the hook out.

Never pull a hook out without first removing the barb; doing so could cause major damage. Also check for line wrapped around the limbs.

Look the bird over carefully and make sure all fishing line and hooks have been removed.

If the bird has swallowed the hook or is seriously injured, take it to a facility that can treat injured birds.

To release, place the bird gently in the water or on the ground near the water. Do not release it if it seems weak or ill. Discard the hooks and cut fishing line in the trash can, not the water.

"One of the worst things you can do is leave a hook in an injured bird," said Lee Fox of Save Our Seabirds. "So many hooks today are stainless steel and they won't rust out."

It also is important to dispose of the line properly. Some species of wildlife eat monofilament line and die. Others, like a wide variety of seabirds, become entangled and drown or starve.

According to one study from 1988-93, 38 percent of green turtles that washed up on Florida beaches had monofilament line in their guts, and 4 percent had eaten fish hooks.

From 1992-98, 40 percent of stranded bottlenose dolphins with human-related injuries had signs of harm from monofilament. And from 1980-99, one out of five rescued manatees had been tangled in fishing line.

To learn more about what you can do to save seabirds, fish and wildlife from the dangers of monofilament fishing line, contact Tampa BayWatch at (727) 896-5320.

- To learn more about seabirds, contact the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary at (727) 391-6211 or Save our Seabirds at (727) 864-0679.

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