Proposal for Ocean Beach Pier seeks places to put discarded fishing lines
A local woman is spearheading an initiative to install receptacles for discarded fishing lines on the Ocean Beach Pier. Sarah Harron approached the Ocean Beach Town Council with the idea earlier this year.
At nearly 2,000 feet long, the OB Pier is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast. The 400-foot terrace at the end of the pier makes it a popular spot from which to cast a line into the water.
It also is the only fishing pier in San Diego that doesn’t already have receptacles dedicated to fishing lines, according to Cameron Reid, vice president of the OB Town Council.
“This program is actually already implemented across San Diego,” Reid said. “It just never made its way to Ocean Beach.”
Andrew Meyer, director of conservation at the San Diego Audubon Society, said monofilament fishing lines are among a litany of problematic plastic waste.
“Fishing along the coast is one of those instances in which humans interact with the coast,” Meyer said. “Unfortunately, a lot of trash like hooks and lines can be left behind accidentally.”
Monofilament fishing line is designed to be very tough and not degrade in salt water. Monofilament plastic can take as long as 600 years to fully degrade on its own.
“For birds in particular, where it becomes problematic is they can get caught in these lines and it ends up making the shoreline a dangerous place for them,” Meyer said. “A lot of times when researchers or biologists find dead birds on the shores, they have a lot of plastic in their stomachs.”
Monofilament fishing line isn’t just an issue for seabirds. Researchers have found fishing line plastic in the stomachs of other marine mammals, tangled in seaweed and stuck on surfboards and boating equipment.
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General trash cans are already in the vicinity of popular fishing spots, but seabirds scavenge for food in them and get tangled in discarded fishing line, reintroducing the plastic into the environment, Harron said.
The prototype bins that Harron seeks to install on the pier are designed specifically to house discarded fishing lines while preventing wildlife from getting in.
A similar program was organized last year by the Triton Lobby Corps of UC San Diego. Students researched the impact of fishing lines on the coastal ecosystem and proposed four-piece PVC bins to be installed at popular fishing locations. The bins’ design was long and narrow to enable lines to be discarded without allowing marine life to get into the bins and remove the lines. The lines would be recycled.
“Another element of the program would be to have educational signs next to the buckets,” Harron said. “First so that people understand that they would be just for fishing lines and not everyday trash, but we could also educate kids about the local birds and sea life and what kind of impact responsible recycling would have. People in general don’t really get how terrible monofilament trash is. There’s not a lot of education on it.”
The Triton Lobby Corps approached San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, who represents District 1, with its idea, but it didn’t get off the ground. One of the hurdles was long-term maintenance, which would need to be established with the city Parks & Recreation Department.
Still, Reid says the timing is “perfect” to launch such a project.
The pier was damaged by high surf in January 2021 and its west end has remained closed to the public for repairs. But Reid said “we’re anticipating the city to reopen that last portion of the pier ahead of the fishing season.”
“What better time to install these bins than when a lot of the best fishing spots on the pier are still closed? We could hit the ground running,” he said.
“People in general don’t really get how terrible monofilament trash is. There’s not a lot of education on it.”
— Sarah Harron
Reid said the project aims to install 20 to 25 bins. Similar to the Triton Lobby Corps’ project, an agreement with Parks & Recreation will be needed before that can happen.
“That’s going to be a longer conversation,” Reid said. “That’s definitely [Parks and Rec’s] territory, so we don’t want to just tell them they have extra work. It’s more an agreement that is supported by the community. We can’t just go and install them in the middle of the night.”
The project is estimated to cost $50 to $100 per container. A fundraiser was held at California Wild Ales on April 10, and an online donation page for the project is at obtc.link/pier.
Harron said she is not a seasoned activist but was compelled to get involved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During social distancing, I would go out to the pier and do my journaling,” she recalled. “I started doing sketches of the birds — the pigeons, the gulls. I noticed their legs withering away, I noticed bindings, and it was so hard to watch. I noticed all kinds of birds that were slumped over or mutilated in some way. I found out, from looking into it, it was the monofilaments. It’s a huge issue.”
“Sarah is definitely very passionate about this topic,” Reid said. “I can see this becoming a reality in the next few weeks, the next few months.”
Harron’s Instagram page, @sarahs4thebirds, chronicles the project as it develops.