Fishing hooks and lures lacerate birds' feet, beaks, or throats--often causing fatal injuries.
One day last year, an ordinary outing at a local park turned into a Rescue 911-style ordeal for Sue Gaines and her husband. The couple were walking their dogs when they noticed movement in the bushes surrounding the park's lake. When they went to investigate, they discovered a seagull entangled in fishing line and struggling just to stay alive.

"He was hanging upside down," says Sue, "very close to the water, and he had to hold his head up to keep from drowning." The line "went all around, through both wings, over his shoulders, criss-crossed over his back and around his legs." The seagull also had a barbed fishing hook embedded under his wing. Sue and her husband worked for nearly an hour to completely untangle the bird, cut off the barb, and remove the hook.

As Sue's story shows, fishing doesn't just hurt fish. Every year, fishers leave behind a trail of tackle victims that includes millions of birds, turtles, bats, and other animals who suffer debilitating injuries or slowly starve to death after swallowing fishhooks or becoming entangled in fishing line. In fact, officials with the Virginia Marine Science Museum Stranding Team say monofilament fishing line is one of the top three threats to sea animals (the others are propeller and boat strikes and plastic trash).

A lifeguard found this young sea turtle with fishing line wrapped around his neck. As the turtle grew, he would eventually have been strangled by the line.
Fishers' Tackle and Trash ...

Many sport fishers seem to think lakes and streams are their own personal dumping grounds. A study of one lake in Wales revealed that the majority of litter left by visitors was found along the small section of shoreline predominantly used by fishers. Discarded bait containers accounted for nearly half the total trash.

But even the most conscientious and careful fishers must share the blame, because every sport fisher eventually loses tackle--fishing line easily snaps when it becomes tangled in tree branches during casting or when hooks get snagged on rocks in the water. And even the smallest amount of lost line can add up to a huge problem for animals: Another U.K. study found that, in just two weeks, fishers discarded or lost 36,000 pieces of line--totaling 6 kilometers--around a 2-kilometer stretch of embankment.

... Are Deathtraps for Animals

This coot's foot was completely severed by fishing line.
Fishing tackle can injure animals in a number of ways. Birds and bats who fly into fishing line caught in trees become hopelessly entangled; most will slowly starve to death. Animals who get entangled in line that is on the ground can become trapped underwater and drown if it catches on rocks or debris. Baby birds can be strangled if their parents use bits of fishing line when weaving their nests. Unfortunately, the more animals struggle, the tighter monofilament line becomes--animals who don't die can suffer severed wings or feet.

Other types of tackle can be deadly, too. Birds who swallow hooks can suffer lacerated beaks and throats; most will starve. Wildlife rehabilitators treat birds poisoned by lead sinkers and otters who can't digest their food because their intestines are full of plastic fishing lures. Some rehabilitators say tackle victims account for the majority of animals they attend to every year. More than 85 percent of the pelicans treated at Florida's Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, for example, have injuries resulting from fishing lines and hooks. But these animals are the lucky ones: Most tackle victims are never found.

You Can Help:

  • Discarded fishing line severed this goose's leg. Injuries were so severe, rehabilitators had to euthanize him.
    Help keep rivers, beaches, and other open spaces safe for animals by removing fishing line and other tackle.

  • If you know any sport fishers, share this information with them! Many fishers don't realize just how deadly their pastime can be.

  • If you're a former fisher and have decided to toss your tackle, pitch it PETA's way. We can use old fishing poles, monofilament line, lures, and other tackle in our educational demonstrations.

  • Ask for a ban on fishing in National Parks. In the United States, write to Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Department of the Interior, 1849 C St. N.W., Washington, DC 20240. Canadian members, write to: The Honorable Andy Mitchell, Secretary of State, Jules Leger Bldg., 15 Eddy St., Hull, Quebec KIA OM5. U.K. members, write to The National Trust, 36 Queen Annes Gate, London SW1H 9AS, and ask them to follow up on their ban on stag hunting on Trust land with a ban on fishing.

Commercial FishingCommon QuestionsCampaign History

What the Experts Say


"By far the greatest threat to the health and safety of waterfowl is not the hunter nor the polluted water, but actually the fishing tackle carelessly discarded by ... fishermen and so-called sportsmen."
---Waverly Traylor, Virginia Beach, Va., wildlife rehabilitator

"The suffering inflicted upon this nation's birds and other animal life by [anglers] is nothing short of the worst kind of vandalism."
---Rorke Garfield, [U.K.] National Animal Rescue Association report

"Monofilament line is deadly, as are discarded fishhooks, nets and lead sinkers."
---Stephanie Streeter, Delaware Valley Raptor Center chairwoman

This little bat lost her right eye and injured her wing when she flew into a net being used to catch "bait fish." She can never be returned to the wild.

PETAPeople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; 757-622-PETA