On a continuing mission to keep plastic out of Georgian Bay, a local environmental charity is now targeting another source of plastic pollution: discarded fishing line.
The latest initiative from Georgian Bay Forever is called Critical Catch, and it involves recycling monofilament fishing line that otherwise might be left behind tangled in trees, around logs or left in the bay.
According to Ashley Morrison, Georgian Bay Forever's project manager for the divert and capture programs, the latest project was a response to shoreline cleanup teams noticing a lot of fishing line discarded along the shores of Collingwood and surrounding areas.
"We wanted to find a way to address it in a deeper manner, rather than just picking it up," said Morrison. "Throughout the winter we focused on creating this project that has a few different prongs to be able to tackle abandoned fishing gear, but also create a connection with fish species."
One of the approaches will include monofilament fishing line recycling receptacles placed in harbours and marinas and possibly in stores where fishing gear is sold.
The receptacles are designed and sold by Clear Your Gear, which is a Canadian project created to help keep fishing line out of the natural environment.
Fishing line is not biodegradable, and it can be harmful to wildlife if animals or fish get tangled in it. The line is strong and most animals cannot break free of it.
Morrison said she's personally seen a small owl caught in fishing line that was wrapped around a tree. She also heard from someone in the area who tried to help a robin that was tangled in line.
"We were at the beach the other day and there was a seagull that kept picking up something and dropping it. We went to go check it out and it was one of those mesh bags with plastic inside to mimic fish eggs," she said. "So, it also feeds back into that microplastic problem."
Georgian Bay Forever has some programs already that are dedicated to removing or keeping microplastics out of the bay, including a pilot program that used filters for residential washing machines to prevent textile microplastics from ending up in the wastewater effluent that gets returned to the bay.
In Simcoe County, fishing line has to be placed in the garbage.
However, the retail fish and tackle store Berkley has a program to recycle used fishing line, and the Critical Catch program will be shipping all the fishing line collected in its receptacles to Berkley for recycling.
Morrison is also working on a way to get personal receptacles for fishing line out to people fishing. She's looking for empty tennis ball containers with lids to be used as temporary storage for the line, which can then be put into one of the recycling receptacles at a harbour or marina.
Georgian Bay Forever will also be continuing to run shoreline cleanups in Collingwood, Blue Mountains, and Wasaga Beach this summer.
Another part of the Critical Catch program is education-based. Morrison said Georgian Bay Forever will be working with the Georgian Triangle Anglers Association to bring elementary school classes to the fish hatchery at Petun Conservation Area to help raise brook trout hatchlings.
"They'd be raising the fish and, at some point, release them," said Morrison. "They would be able to see them hatch, feed them, and incorporate the experience into the curriculum ... it creates that connection of doing something good and having that personal connection with the water."
Georgian Bay Forever will also be using underwater vehicles to look for areas of the bay where there are large amounts of discarded fishing line collecting and work with divers to clean up those spots.
With the Critical Catch program just in the early stages, Morrison is looking for community participation in a few ways. She needs donations of tennis ball containers with lids — she has 150 of the 500 required for the program. And Georgian Bay Forever will also need marinas, harbours, and retail locations on Georgian Bay from Blue Mountains to Midland to volunteer to take one of the fishing line recycling receptacles. They are made from PVC pipe and can be mounted to a wall or post. The organization will also need volunteers interested in emptying the receptacles and sorting out the line, hooks, and lures for shipment to Berkley for recycling.
Volunteers are always welcome at the Georgian Bay Forever shoreline cleanup events, which are listed here.
Georgian Bay Forever is working with a mobile app called Marine Debris Tracker, which is an open data app that allows users to report the plastic pollution they clean up. Morrison said it will help the Critical Capture program to know where people are finding and cleaning up discarded fishing line because they'll use the locations for research into the problem and potential solutions.
For more information on Georgian Bay Forever and the ongoing divert and capture projects, visit the website here.