Drawing the 'Line' on a Dangerous Custom
A fox is trapped in a landfill, entangled in fishing line. A baby bird is wounded before its first flight, caught in the line its mother used to make her nest. A loon is severely injured after swallowing fishing line with the hook still attached.
Dozens of stories like these, many with tragic endings for wildlife, inspired Manitoba’s Judy Robertson to take action.
“Monofilament fishing line is often left in nature because people get a snag and cut the line,” she explains.
The line seems harmless—thin and translucent and hard to see. But it’s made of strong plastic that can cut through flesh, restrict airways, or render a creature immobile when it’s entangled in it.
“It’s almost a death sentence for any animal,” Robertson says.
Even line thrown in the garbage causes damage to animals. “Wildlife can be harmed by it in a landfill—foxes, coyotes, racoons, birds of prey,” she continues. “It’s important to get fishing line out of nature and the environment and have it recycled.”
Robertson heard about Clear Your Gear, a fishing line recycling program, while in Florida. She got permission from the sponsoring organization to bring the Clear Your Gear name to Canada in 2016, and is now president of the non-profit, which is run entirely by volunteers.
Today, you can find hundreds of Clear Your Gear recycling receptacles across the country. Robertson and her team developed partnerships with parks departments, fishing groups, tour companies, fishing retailers, and individuals who agreed to place the units in places fishers are likely to come across them—near boat launches or in outdoor stores, for example.
A key to Clear Your Gear’s success has been to make everything free of charge. Volunteers build the receptacles, and they are provided to the host community or retailer at no cost thanks to sponsorships. Enbridge is the proud sponsor of 20 units in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, purchased with donations totaling $5,000 to support the initiative.
Donations to Clear Your Gear also cover shipping expenses to send the fishing line to the specialized recycling facility in Iowa. Once it’s recycled, it will find second life as plastic beads used in auto parts and as tackle boxes.
Enbridge made another important contribution to Clear Your Gear; we donated safety equipment—gloves and safety glasses—to help volunteers safely remove extraneous materials from the fishing line. “When we send the line for recycling, it can’t have hooks or leads or weights,” Robertson explains. “The safety equipment is a wonderful addition.”
The more people learn about the initiative, the more it grows. Clear Your Gear typically installs about 300 units a year, but midway through 2021, there’s already a waitlist for 75 receptacles.
“It’s a program of education. People from all over the world fish, and they fish in Canada,” she continues. “We’re teaching everyone that you can recycle line.”
As a plastic product, monofilament fishing line takes 600 years to break down, Robertson says.
“Nature doesn’t understand these things. Wildlife is dying because they don’t understand a plastic bag isn’t a jellyfish, a plastic straw isn’t a plant, fishing line isn’t material for a nest,” she says.
“Nature is suffering; the environment is suffering. But people are recognizing it, and doing something about it.”