Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Fishing gear injuries

November 3, 2013

Black-crowned Night Heron with swallowed fish hook

Black-Crowned Night Heron 13-2477 recovering from fishhook removal

Here, staff veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr surgically removes a large fishing hook (attached to a glittery worm lure) swallowed by this Black-crowned Night Heron, currently in care at our San Francisco Bay center. Photos by Cheryl Reynolds.



August 26, 2013

Fish hook removal for a return gull patient

Photo by Isabel Luevano

This Western Gull was transferred to International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center from Peninsula Humane Society having swallowed two large hooks. Last week, staff veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr removed one hook through the esophagus at the shoulder and the other by cutting into the bird’s ventriculus through the abdomen.

X-ray showing hooks (left); hooks after removal, photo by Dr. Rebecca Duerr

As you can see in the photo above, this gull already sported a silver federal band on its leg upon intake — and it also had a healed surgical incision from a toe amputation. Upon review, Dr. Duerr discovered that the gull had come into the center a year ago for a severely infected right foot digit #4 (the outer toe) that she had removed, as well as an infected tendon from the adjacent toe. This bird was in care for a long time with other numerous problems, but was ultimately released at Ft. Baker. Duerr reports that the gull is doing well following its hook removal surgery.

More coverage on fish hook injuries:

A Double-crested Cormorant with fish hook injuries (June 13, 2013)

Rescuing injured wildlife (a KQED Quest report on birds cared for at International Bird Rescue; March 15, 2013)

Pelican with fish hook injuries (March 7, 2013)

Western Grebe with fish hook injuries (December 12, 2012)

Sign up for this year’s Coastal Clean-Up Day on September 21 and make a difference. For California, visit the California Coastal Commission’s webpage. For other locations, check out the Ocean Conservancy’s clean-up day map.

July 4, 2013

A tangled tragedy: gillnets and seabirds

Photo by Markus Vetemaa

Editor’s note: Recently, a news headline on gillnets and their devastating impact on seabirds duly caught our attention. In a sobering review, scientists concluded that hundreds of thousands of birds are killed every year by these nets, some of which are banned in international waters but common elsewhere in coastal fisheries.

We reached out to Rory Crawford, senior policy officer of BirdLife International Global Seabird Programme, who wrote this guest post on a fishing practice that kills indiscriminately; affected species include the threatened Steller’s Eider (shown above) and the endangered Marbled Murrelet, now at the center of a fight over habitat preservation in West Coast old-growth forests where the small seabird nests.


rcLast month, the first ever global review of seabird bycatch in gillnets was published in the journal Biological Conservation. This study, authored by marine biologist Ramunas Žydelis and BirdLife scientists, estimates that a staggering 400,000 birds are killed each year through entanglement with gillnets, exceeding the estimated toll of bird deaths documented in longline fisheries.

Historically, gillnets were made from organic materials like hemp, but in the 1960s, nets made from fine, man-made nylon became popular among fishermen. These nets were more durable, easier to handle and allowed fishermen to catch more fish — in large part because they were virtually invisible underwater, making them almost undetectable by the fish they were targeting.

Not surprisingly, however, these nets are also near-undetectable for diving seabirds, as well as dolphins, whales, seals and turtles. Huge bycatch of all these groups of species in large scale high seas driftnets (a type of gillnet) in the 1980s resulted in a 1992 UN ban on their use in international waters. However, gillnets are still largely legal for use all over the world, predominantly in small scale coastal fisheries, targeting a whole host of fish species.

The global review of gillnet bycatch assessed 148 seabird species as susceptible; 81 of these have actually been recorded caught in fishing nets, including the threatened Humboldt Penguin and Steller’s Eider (pictured), the endangered Marbled Murrelet, and more widespread species like the Common Murre.

Bycatch levels of seabirds were found to be highest in the Northwest Pacific Ocean, Nordic regions and the Baltic Sea, where estimated bycatch levels were 140,000, over 100,000 and 76,000 respectively. The review is far-reaching but data gaps remain in places where bycatch is suspected, including the South Atlantic, Mediterranean and Southeast Pacific, as well as Japanese and Korean waters. For this reason, the estimate of 400,000 birds killed per year should be viewed as a minimum estimate.

These are truly astounding numbers that make the case for urgent action crystal clear — particularly in light of the fact that seabirds are more threatened than any other comparable group of birds, and that their conservation status has deteriorated faster in recent years.

But what action can be taken? While there is a suite of well-studied and established best practice mitigation measures to reduce seabird bycatch in longline fisheries, very little research has been undertaken to identify similar solutions to this problem in gillnet fisheries. Here at BirdLife, we are looking to remedy this situation through our tried-and-tested approach of collaborating with fishermen to come up with novel solutions to bycatch.

By working through our Albatross Task Force teams in southern Africa and South America, we’ve been able to achieve some amazing reductions in albatross bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. These teams work alongside fishermen – sometimes on fishing trips of over a month in length – to demonstrate bycatch mitigation techniques and encourage fishermen to use them. This year, through the Albatross Task Force in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, and funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we are engaging with small-scale fishermen to identify bycatch hot-spots and undertake pilot studies testing mitigation measures.

This is a fantastic start, but we need much more research to start pulling in the results that will allow us to better define the scale of the problem and establish best practice mitigation that can be applied across the world.

Rory Crawford is senior policy officer with BirdLife International Global Seabird Programme.

June 13, 2013

A Double-crested Cormorant with fish hook injuries


The news this week that an estimated 400,000 seabirds die in gill nets annually underscores just how much of a problem fishing methods can be for the planet’s aquatic birds. Beyond the headlines, we see injuries resulting from hooks, lures and monofilament every day at our wildlife care centers. That’s why International Bird Rescue has heartily supported initiatives to reduce fishing gear in the environment.

Among the birds in care this week at our Los Angeles wildlife center was this Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), recently brought to us from El Dorado Nature Center, where it appeared lethargic, emaciated and not so wary of humans, as it naturally should be.

The cormorant’s temperature was below normal upon intake. After a supplemental tubing, staff checked on the bird minutes later and noticed this animal had regurgitated its food — as well as a small amount of monofilament fishing line, which dangled from the side of its mouth.

Our staff did some further investigation of the esophagus region and located a hook that was stuck about halfway down the cormorant’s throat. The team succeeded in extracting the fish hook. But sadly this bird did not ultimately survive, mostly likely having starved from not being able to eat due to the fish hook and line, notes IBR director Jay Holcomb.

We can all help to reduce the amount of waste in our oceans and waterways. Find out how you can get involved at California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project and Coastal Clean-Up Day on September 21.

DCCO hook-Neil Uelman

More recent posts on cormorants:

Birds getting caught in Marina del Rey tree nets

The Release Files: A cormorant found hanging in a tree net returns home

The Birder’s Report: Double-crested Cormorants

June 2, 2009

Fishing line injury study: Pelicans most affected

A recent study has concluded, not surprising, that pelicans suffer the most fishing line injuries. Over 30% of the animals harmed by fish hooks and entangled fishing line were Brown Pelicans.

The report was published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 45(2), 2009, pp. 355–362. The report was authored by Brynie Kaplan Dau including contributors, Jay Holcomb of Bird Rescue, Kirsten V. K. Gilardi and Michael H. Ziccardi of UC Davis’ Wildlife Health Center.

The study says that pelican injuries caused by fishing gear were most common in the Monterey Bay region, where 59.6% of the pelicans rescued and admitted to a rehabilitation center were injured by fishing gear over the 6-yr period.

The highest prevalence of fishing gear–related injury in gulls was documented in the Los Angeles/Orange County region (16.1%), whereas the highest prevalence is in pinnipeds (elephant and harbor seals) were seen in the San Diego region (3.7%).

A total of 9,668 cases were included in this study, of which 1,090 (11.3%) were fishing gear–related injuries.

To reduce risk of injury and death for coastal marine wildlife and people, the SeaDoc Society, a marine ecosystem health program of the University of California Davis Wildlife Health Center, launched the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project in 2005. To date, more than 11 tons of lost fishing gear have been removed from near shore marine waters surrounding the Channel Islands, and hundreds of pounds of recreational fishing gear (such as fishing line and hooks, tackle, and ropes) have been cleaned off public-access fishing piers.

To prevent the accumulation of discarded gear at these piers, mono-filament disposal stations have been established on many coastal public piers.

The paper was published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Read the abstract

June 7, 2008

Second time around for 12-year-old Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron has been in care multiple times.

12 years later after release: Great Blue Heron is back in care for fishing line injuries.

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Executive Director reports on a 12-year-old Great Blue Heron that has been given two chances at surviving in this rough and tumble world:

“Back on July 23, 1996 a Great Blue Heron, tangled in fishing line with fishing hooks embedded in its wing was captured and brought to the Alexander Lindsay Museum in Walnut Creek, CA. The young hatching bird was stabilized and treated for puncture wounds from hooks and abrasions from entanglement in fishing line.

The following day the bird was brought to the International Bird Rescue Research Center’s old aquatic bird rehabilitation facility in Berkeley, CA. The bird was put on a regimen of antibiotics and treated for its wounds. It’s recovery was quick and the bird did well. On July 29, 1996 the bird was banded with a small medal federal leg band (#0977-04747) and released in the Suisun Marsh.

Twelve years later on May 28, 2008, the same Great Blue Heron, now an adult but still wearing band number 0977-04747, was again found entangled in fishing line and fish hooks and was captured at a marina in Oakley, near Concord, CA. The bird was brought to the Lindsay Museum who, again, did an excellent job of stabilizing it and removing the fish hooks and line that were tangled around its wing and leg.

The bird was then transferred to IBRRC’s new facility in Cordelia, CA. As before, it was treated for its wounds, held a week or so and on June 5, 2008 it was released healthy and strong back into the Suisun Marsh.

California has a number of prestigious wildlife rehabilitation organizations that remain open 365 days a year to provide shelter and state of the art care for sick and injured native wildlife. The Lindsay Museum and IBRRC are two of those organizations and are considered leaders in the unique field of wildlife rehabilitation. Both organizations have worked in tandem for years to support each to provide the best care for local wildlife. IBRRC specializes in aquatic bird rehabilitation and has specialized facilities to achieve this.

The Lindsay Museum cares for many species of native wildlife including raptors, passerines, terrestrial mammals and reptiles. When IBRRC receives an owl or occasional mammal for care, we send them on to the museum for rehabilitation. In turn, they send us the aquatic birds that can benefit from our program and specialized facility.

Together we have helped hundreds of animals by cooperating with each other and putting the needs of the animals first. Great Blue Heron, band number 0977-04747, is a testament to this important relationship and the dedication of these two organizations.

IBRRC wants to acknowledge and thank all the staff and volunteers at both organizations for their ongoing cooperation and life saving efforts. Great Blue Heron, band 0977-04747, has been given two chances to go back to the wild and live its life, because of your efforts. This is your achievement and your reward for your time well spent. Enjoy it!”

Also see:

Lindsay Museum information

How discarded fishing tackle affects Pelicans and other birds