SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Tackling the issue of fishing litter

This summer as we explore and interact with our beautiful coastlines, rivers and lakes, we must remember that we have a duty of care to our wildlife and must take actions to protect them and their environment. This includes making sure fishing practices are responsible and sustainable.

Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear threatens numerous animals that call our oceans and shores home including seabirds, shorebirds, and aquatic animals. New Zealand is considered the seabird capital of the world because of the number of species that call New Zealand home or visit our shores. Sadly, every year, inappropriately discarded fishing line, hooks and tackle kills or injures our wildlife, not to mention also poses a risk to our furry companions being walked on the beach.

‘Ghost gear’ is the term used to describe lost, abandoned or otherwise discarded fishing gear, predominately from commercial fisheries. Ghost gear represents approximately 10% of the plastic waste in our ocean and accounts for 46-70% (by weight) of surface floating large plastics (macro-plastics).

A responsible fisher and aquatic guardian properly discards fishing gear, such as nets, traps, ropes, hooks, fishing line, bait or berley bags and any other plastic waste. Entanglement and/or ingestion of fishing litter can cause severe pain, injury, starvation, and death of wildlife. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) reported that entanglements in fishing lines or nets or ingesting foreign objects such as fishing hooks or plastic debris are amongst the most common causes of injury and illness to seabirds. Lost or discarded soft plastic lures also pose a risk as often they swell in water and can be consumed by fish. When consumed, lures can block the fish’s digestive tract, which can lead to starvation.

Lead fishing tackle is also problematic when it releases toxins into the environment as it weathers and erodes and can poison wildlife. Animals that consume lead fishing tackle can experience serious and life-threatening health problems from lead poisoning. Animals with lead build up in their bodies can also poison other animals that consume them. The use of alternatives to lead fishing tackle should be promoted to reduce the risk of lead being accidently lost and contaminating aquatic environments.

If you see discarded fishing litter and other plastic waste, safely pick it up and appropriately dispose of it in a secure bin. Additionally, you can ensure litter doesn’t end up in the environment by regularly maintaining and replacing fishing gear. For example, replacing soft plastic lures before they get too worn and easily pulled off, will reduce the risk of losing or breaking parts of gear. If you are fishing from a boat, it’s important to make sure all items are properly stowed on board so nothing can bounce off or fly into the water.

We must all work together to ensure all New Zealanders and future generations will be able to enjoy and interact with clean beaches, healthy oceans and thriving populations of aquatic animals. Being a responsible fisher and an aquatic guardian, will help minimise our impact on aquatic environments and safeguard the welfare of all animals which live there.

A seagull in SPCA's care
A seagull in SPCA's care
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