It is difficult to quantify the impacts of recreational fishing debris on Australian coastal wildlife, consequently hindering targeted management and public awareness messages. Taronga Wildlife Hospital receives over 700 injured wild animals annually, allowing a unique snapshot into the health status of local wildlife. Taronga’s Australian Registry of Wildlife Health and Taronga Wildlife Rehabilitation Database are valuable data sources allowing a longitudinal, objective study of the potential impact of recreational fishing. Recreational fishing debris (fishing line, small hooks, spears and nets but not trawl or shark nets) cause accidental death and injury to marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, with more than one admission every month on average. Over the past decade, 156 animals have been admitted to the hospital with fishing related injuries, with only 22% surviving to be released. Hook ingestion is the most common injury and has the lowest survival outcome.
Marine and aquatic birds are the focus of this analysis, comprising 72% of animals admitted with fishing related injury. The remaining affected animals include turtles (17%) and marine mammals (11%). Birds are more vulnerable to hook ingestion, while turtles and marine mammals are more likely to be affected by entanglements from line and nets. Birds are most affected by hooks because of their exclusively piscivorous diet, their foraging methods and their size. Admissions of birds with fishing related injury has increased over the past decade (r2=0.792, p=0.000). Twice as many male as female birds are admitted with fishing related injury possibly attributable to differences in life histories and hunting strategies. Longitudinal analysis reported here highlights the most vulnerable species and individuals, the most hazardous debris types and guides decisions regarding the best care of injured wildlife. Cormorants and pelicans make up the majority of bird admissions, making them important target species for public conservation messaging.