Wildlife rescuers on the New South Wales north coast say there has been a dramatic spike in the number of seabirds being injured by fishing tackle.

Key points:

  • Wildlife rescuers say reports of injured seabirds have skyrocketed in recent weeks.
  • The NSW Recreational Fishers Alliance says the popularity of the sport has increased during the pandemic.
  • The Alliance says it is missing opportunities to educate newcomers to the sport about caring for the environment.

Olly Pitt from Australian Seabird Rescue says rescuers have not stopped since the start of school holidays, which coincided with the introduction of lockdowns in Sydney and restrictions across regional New South Wales.

The Ballina-based organisation has taken in six pelicans, one of which was unable to survive injuries caused by ingesting a length of fishing line connected to an array of hooks.

Another is being nursed back to health, suffering from heavy metal poisoning after swallowing two lead sinkers.

The bird is just one of an increasing number of animals suffering the fallout from a rise in popularity of recreational fishing.

Seagulls, cormorants and gannets are among the species being reported to rescuers, many of which cannot be captured in order to be saved.

A bird with fishing tackle coming out of its mouth.

Wildlife rescuers say it is often difficult to remove fishing line and lures ingested by birds, such as this Crested Tern.(

Supplied: Australian Seabird Rescue

)

Reports of injured seabirds flooding in

Ms Pitt said the number of reports had increased from about one a week to one or two a day.

Ms Pitt attributed the dramatic increase to more people going fishing during lockdown.

“People are starting to enjoy the little things in life again, and that might be fishing, and that’s okay, but what we need to do now is make sure these newcomers to the sport are learning to respect the ocean,” she said.

President of the Recreational Fishing Alliance of New South Wales Stan Konstantaras said there had been a spike in fishing licence sales, fishing tackle, and boats, indicating increased participation in the sport.  

A seagull's foot entangled in fishing line

Australian Seabird Rescue says an increase in recreation fishing has been bad news for seabirds becoming entangkled in discarded tackle

Responsible fishing

But with the doors to fishing clubs largely closed over the past 18 months, Mr Konstantaras said is was difficult to educate ‘newbies’ about the dos and don’ts of fishing.

“One of the mottos we have is, ‘Don’t put the environment on the line’, and we really push that message home about people taking their rubbish home and not leaving hooks and other things lying around.”

Mr Konstantaras said the Alliance was keen to work with wildlife organisations and was mindful of the need to increase education for people entering the sport through social media and other points of contact.

It shouldn’t be happening

Ms Pitt said volunteers were working overtime to gain the trust of injured birds in order to catch them and care for them.

“The last time they had an encounter with a human, they had a hook in them,” she said. 

An injured seagull

Carers says they have been busy tending to an increased number of injured birds.(

Supplied: Australian Seabird Rescue

)

“These pelicans just won’t come near us so we have to go down every day to feed them and get them used to us.”

Boom in recreational fishing having major impact on seabirds, say wildlife rescuers
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