Eco-Friendly Boating: Fishing with Purpose


About 10% of the world's population fish recreationally, and a considerable number of them are boaters. Those anglers have a unique understanding of waterways and the interconnection between our actions and aquatic ecosystems. The extent of recreational fishing on our environment has been difficult to quantify, but studies continue to show declines in fish populations and habitats. We can make a difference. Whether fishing for sport or food, responsible stewardship of our recreational fisheries is achievable.

Fishing for marlin -credit- Lunamarina

Know before You Go

Before casting off boat lines or a fishing line, do your research. Federal, state and local fishing regulations provide guidelines concerning where, when and what you are allowed to catch. Seasonal closures, size and catch limits are designed to reduce species depletion and encourage robust ecosystems. These restrictions can change, and individuals are responsible for knowing the regulations governing the area or species they will be fishing.

Downloading local fishing regulations and fish identification charts onto your cell phone will help you keep in compliance at a glance. Proper tackle such as circle hooks, measuring devices and dehooking tools can make successful releases easier for you and the fish.

Choose a Good Pickup Line

No, not THAT kind of line, but a “fishing” line. Traditional fishing lines are composed of non-degradable materials like nylon. However, nylon-based monofilament lines and popular braided fluorocarbon lines can take anywhere from 600 to 1,000 years respectively to decompose. When improperly disposed of these lines can ensnare fish, sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and birds. Even properly disposed of lines are problematic in our landfills.

Biodegradable fishing lines are a readily available alternative. Biodegradable lines made from plant-based material and biodegradable plastic can decompose in under five years when discarded. Advancements in the biodegradable materials industry have led to the production of eco-friendly lines that can compete with their non-degradable counterpart. Berkley, Grizzly Jig and Bait Doctor are just a few of the many brands offering mono and braided biodegradable fishing lines.

Get the Lead Out

Literally. Eliminating lead weights from fishing tackle can be pivotal in fish and wildlife protection. All anglers understand the propensity of tackle to not make it back into our tackle box. Lines snap, hooks snag and things get dropped when out on the water. An estimated 4,000 tons of lead from fishing tackle is released into our waterways annually. Discarded lead, which is toxic to wildlife even in small amounts, leaches into the water over time.

Another concern is the resemblance of lead weights to small pebbles and food. Many bird species ingest pebbles to aid in digestion, and bottom-feeding fish ingest debris when gathering food. Toxic levels of lead are easily passed through the food chain. A recent report showed 25% of common loon deaths were due to lead poisoning.

Non-leaded tackle alternatives include tungsten, steel, tin and tin/bismuth. Anglers will be happy to find benefits such as faster sinking and setting when using tungsten weights, a denser metal than lead. The extensive list of manufacturers making lead-free tackle includes popular names such as Bass Pro, Orvis and Eagle Claw.

If you choose to make this impactful change to your fishing gear, please dispose of older lead weights responsibly. Your local hazardous waste collection site should be able to receive them. If you have an abundance, you may find a scrap metal collector/recycler who would compensate you for them.

A Lifetime of Lures

Fishing - Credit - vzwer from Getty Images

A lifetime is a fraction of the time it takes for most lures to degrade. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I have a sentimental display of my father’s old lures. I love that they have withstood time and have served generations of fishermen.

Unfortunately, the environmental impact of artificial lures is hard to ignore. Over 54.5 million Americans engage in fly, salt or freshwater fishing annually. If each angler lost two lures a year — and let’s be honest, we know it could be more than that — it would result in over 109 million products left in our aquatic ecosystems each year. Hard and soft plastic lures contribute to littering and can pose complications for fish and wildlife.

The bait and tackle industry has been responsive to anglers looking to keep their favorite pastime environmentally friendly. Biodegradable versions of preferred artificial baits now exist in the marketplace. Berkley, Z-man, EcoLure and Eco-Logical are just a few of the companies offering biodegradable lures and soft baits. The cost of plastic-free bait and tackle will decrease as the number of anglers seeking to make this eco-savvy switch increases.

Diligently following fishing regulations and choosing eco-considerate gear may seem inconsequential when we consider the impact of commercial fisheries and other environmental hazards. A single line, weight or lure may not seem to matter. But to the sea turtle whose fin is constricted by a line lost years ago, a swan who mistook lead weights for pebbles, or a fish with intestinal blockage from a non-disintegrating lure, they matter.

Boaters will always have a unique relationship with our world’s aquatic ecosystem. How we steward the resources we enjoy while boating will make a difference for the generations to follow. Don’t let a healthy environment be the one that got away.

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