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Hook, Line and Recycling Fishing Line

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Fishing line is designed to bring in big fish without breaking, to carry heavy weights and lures, and to run behind mega fishing boats. It’s also problematic. Strength coupled with a biodegradable time-line of nearly 600 years, means that generations of marine animals will battle unnecessary waste, long after fishing tournaments cease.

Keith Rittmaster poses beside his mobile monofilament recycling bin. He’s holding “Lionel” the 6- month old bottlenose dolphin that has fused fishing line in and around its jaws. Photo by Helen Aitken
Keith Rittmaster poses beside his mobile monofilament recycling bin. He’s holding “Lionel” the 6- month old bottlenose dolphin that has fused fishing line in and around its jaws. Photo by Helen Aitken

When lines with attached hooks are cut, the general perception is they fall to the sea floor without further incident. Stainless steel hooks don’t rust away, and fishing line can wrap over fins, flippers, necks and tails. Shiny hooks and loops of monofilament are inviting to marine animals. Much like curious puppies, seals, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and whales find what fishermen leave behind. Caught, wrapped or trapped animals can succumb to infection, loss of limbs, or starvation. What might be thought of as a play toy, can inflict injury or death.

Alternatively, PVC monofilament receptacles at the dock, marina or tackle store, provide a great home for used lines and hooks.

Since 2007, Keith Rittmaster, the North Carolina Maritime Museum’s Natural Science Curator and Director of the Cape Lookout Studies Program (CLSP) in Beaufort, has been helping individuals to build or obtain the receptacles, while providing programs and support through the CLSP website.

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The bins cost about $100 to make with a 4 or 6-inch diameter PVC pipe body, elbow top and a screwed cap at the bottom. A quarter-inch hole drilled in the cap drains water. Easily installed, the bins are visible in white, but painting or using reflective tape makes them more noticeable. They sport information labels and a metal sign explaining the CLS Program. “Beach walkers go out of their way to take the monofilament off the beach,” said Rittmaster.  When the bins are full, the bottom comes off and the bin contents are removed.

However, there are some drawbacks. Once, a marina owner told Rittmaster the bins should be mounted higher because people were urinating in them. They can be misused for trash, bait or dirty diapers. Some bins are located with trash and recycle cans along the beach. Unfortunately, at one site in Atlantic Beach, the receptacle was installed upside down, rendering it useless.

“Our fear is that it goes up and someone doesn’t maintain it,” said Rittmaster. Individuals, organizations and businesses should consider the long-term maintenance and obligation to recycle before installing. In addition, unless the marina puts up the receptacles, it is not responsible for maintaining them.

Rittmaster keeps up with 51 installed bins along North Carolina’s coast, but says more are needed. He also fashioned a monofilament-recycling bin on a dolly that goes along the waterfront during fishing tournaments.

Keith Rittmaster would like to receive the recyclable line for statistical purposes. Just bring the collected line to the Cape Lookout Maritime Museum, and he will send it off to

The improper placement of a monofilament recycling bin at Atlantic Beach, N.C. Photo by Keith Rittmaster
The improper placement of a monofilament recycling bin at Atlantic Beach, N.C. Photo by Keith Rittmaster

the only monofilament-recycling center, Berkley Fishing Company. Since 2007, about 1104 pounds, or 1100 miles of monofilament has been collected, sorted and cleaned by CLSP volunteers. The lines are weighed, packed up, then sent off.

The Berkley Conservation Institute, in Iowa, has recycled over 9 million miles of monofilament, collected from more than 17,000 recycling bins, in the last twenty-four years. They make fishing tackle boxes, reels and fish habitats as artificial reefs from monofilament. When a box of the line is received, they send back a new box and shipping label.

Unfortunately, woven fishing lines or line with wire cannot be recycled. In fact, cutting them up for the trash can is difficult, but necessary. Six-inch pieces won’t entangle birds or be a problem for marine life if they somehow get in water.

On a worktable in Rittmaster’s office, is the skull of a 6-month old male bottlenose dolphin. He had gotten into a web of fishing line shortly after birth. Gradually the line cut into the flesh, and fused with growing bone. As the dolphin grew bigger, the line got tighter and four and a half months later, the young mammal starved to death. It’s a sad reminder for CLSP perseverance.

For information and receptacle directions, Contact Keith Rittmaster: www.capelookoutstudies.org/monofilament-recycling-program/, krittmaster@ec.rr.com, or 252-504-2452.  

Berkley Recycling Center, www.berkley-fishing.com, Berkley@purefishing.com


State Monofilament Recycling Resources:


Check with local marinas or tackle shops


Dept. Game and Inland Fisheries, www.dgif.virginia.gov/




Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center, 912-635-4444, gstc.jekyllisland.com/programs/


MRRP, mrrp.myfwc.com/donation.aspx


Auburn University, 251-438-5690, bordesm@auburn.edu.


Department of Marine Resources, (228) 374-5000, www.dmr.state.ms.us/index.php/environment/pollution/109-mississippi-monofilament-recycling-program#sthash.BKyAJ5R9.dpuf




Contact John O’Connell, Texas Sea Grant Extension Agent, at 979-864-1558.

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  1. I’m so glad that Keith Rittmaster, in Beaufort, N.C. and other agencies in the U.S. have monofilament recycling efforts. It’s evident what volunteers can do to prevent wildlife injuries and even death, and if you’re interested, please contact your area’s resources to see what you can do.

    Check out the Cape Lookout Studies Program website for more information and volunteer opportunities.

    It was my honor to write this article for All At Sea Southeast magazine. If you want to see more environmental issue articles, please let the editor know. Thanks.


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