Thinking Outside the Tackle Box: Recycling Fishing Line to Protect Wildlife Along the Texas Coast

This blog is brought to you by Audubon Texas, Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists (TXMN-GBAC), Houston Zoo, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program

It is no secret that plastic pollution in our oceans is a threat to hundreds of species, with marine animals and birds ingesting, or becoming entangled in plastic debris. Out of a desire to protect local wildlife and keep our beaches and fishing areas clean and accessible for generations of Texans to come, twelve governmental and non-profit organizations in the Houston/Galveston area joined forces to create the Plastics Pollution Prevention Partnership (P3P). Through this partnership, we created a team to identify the major threats that plastic pollution poses to local coastal birds and marine wildlife. This group, made up of members from Audubon Texas, Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists (TXMN-GBAC), Houston Zoo, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – Galveston Bay Estuary Program, identified discarded (littered) fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like American oystercatchers and sea turtles. Discarded fishing line entangles the aforementioned species at high rates, causing unnecessary mortality that could easily be avoided through proper line containment.

Monofilament fishing line recycling bin with signage
Monofilament fishing line recycling bin with signage. Photo Credit: Houston Zoo/Dale Martin

In coastal communities throughout Texas and along the Gulf Coast, conservation groups have tried to address the problem of improperly discarded fishing line by installing monofilament recycling bins, but the effectiveness of this approach is not well known and left our group asking the following question – if line recycling is easy and widely available, why does monofilament persist as a pollutant on shorelines and in marine habitats?

As we worked to answer this question, a parallel survey effort led by TXMN-GBAC revealed that ownership for 40 of the 80  monofilament recycling bins found in Galveston County was not clear, meaning that even though a bin has been installed, there may not be anyone that has taken on the responsibility of monitoring or maintaining the bin. To address this, TXMN-GBAC took photos, GPS coordinates and left cards in tubes of unknown ownership asking for permission to take ownership of the tube. Once all the tubes were located, tubes without ownership were transferred to TXMN-GBAC through the official process. Chapter volunteers adopted the bins, assuming responsibility for emptying them regularly and reporting the quantities of fishing line collected and sent for recycling. Bins in poor condition were rated and ranked by volunteers and are being repaired and upgraded. In addition, TXMN-GBAC created a Facebook page to serve as a resource for the public showing where the approximately 100 monofilament recycling bins are located throughout Galveston County.

Volunteers participate in a monthly cleanup at Surfside Jetty in Freeport, Texas
Volunteers participate in a monthly cleanup at Surfside Jetty in Freeport, Texas. Photo Credit: Houston Zoo/Dale Martin

Knowing that TXMN-GBAC volunteers are ensuring that the bins remain well maintained and accessible to the public, the P3P fishing line working group’s challenge involved identifying strategies to ensure the bins are properly utilized by the community. In order to implement effective strategies, we used behavior change tools to better understand our audience. Our first step was to interview anglers at a number of popular fishing sites to better understand their current fishing line practices, and what they might be willing to change in order to start properly disposing of their fishing line. After conducting over 250 interviews, we learned that while many anglers were not currently recycling their line, they would be willing to in the future. The only thing holding them back? They either didn’t know where they could recycle their line, or that fishing line could be recycled in the first place. We knew that to increase the effectiveness of the bins themselves, we were going to need to work with the community to develop an action that they can take ownership of and champion. To do this, we developed a strategy using the principles of a method known as Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM). By following the steps of CBSM, we aim to create a behavior that is not only easy for anglers to adopt but is easy to practice again and again. This repetition helps to reinforce a sustainable behavior, rather than a one-time action.

Photo commitment board for P3P’s fishing line recycling campaign
Photo commitment board for P3P’s fishing line recycling campaign. Photo Credit: Houston Zoo/Taylor Rhoades

When working on long-term behavior change, it’s important to redefine the social norm (i.e. replacing the current undesired behavior of leaving line on the ground with the behavior of recycling line in monofilament bins). But, for this to work, we need the community to not only practice the new behavior, but take pride in doing so, and model the behavior for other members of their community to see. To encourage this process of social norming to take place, we ask anglers to pose for a photo and sign it, pledging to recycle their fishing line to help save sea turtles. These photos are then publicly posted on a bulletin board near the entrance of their fishing site. Anglers who commit to recycling their line are given a sticker to put on their tackle box as a tool to remind them to recycle their line before heading home. This commitment process helps the community practice the new behavior of properly recycling fishing line while building pride and reinforcing the participants’ identity as someone who protects wildlife.

To determine if this strategy is working, volunteers will conduct cleanups at campaign sites twice a month and measure the amount of line collected in monofilament recycling bins versus the amount of line collected on the ground. As more members of the community begin to recycle their fishing line, we anticipate the amount of line on the ground to decrease, and the amount collected from the bins to increase. If this behavior is successfully adopted and practiced for years to come, we anticipate a decrease in the number of bird and sea turtle entanglement cases. At our mini-pilot site in Freeport, Texas, we saw a 32% increase of line in the bins versus on the ground after four months of testing this social norm/commitment strategy.

Recycling fishing line helps to protect sea turtles like this Kemp’s ridley
Recycling fishing line helps to protect sea turtles like this Kemp’s ridley. Photo Credit: Houston Zoo/ Stephanie Adams

Both the TXMN-GBAC bin monitoring program and the fishing line recycling campaign work together to achieve a common goal of increasing the effectiveness of monofilament recycling bins in order to keep the Texas coast clean and safe for both people and wildlife to visit. Less line on the ground requires fewer workers to clean up the line, saving resources for the community. It creates a clean, safe, more enjoyable area for people to fish and bring their families to enjoy the outdoors. Properly disposed of fishing line helps save turtles, birds and other sea life, all which play a role in protecting our valuable natural resources of the Texas coast.

As we look towards the future and what lies ahead for both of these efforts, we recognize that we still have a lot to learn, but no matter what unknowns have yet to be revealed one thing is for certain – the success of this work lies in the power of community. From coordination with site managers to obtain approval to work at their sites to soliciting volunteers from the local community to help with cleanup efforts and conversing with anglers, these on-going communications and volunteer efforts are a clear and visible message to the angler community that we are all in this together.

Anglers pose for a photo, pledging to recycle their fishing line
Anglers pose for a photo, pledging to recycle their fishing line. Photo Credit: Houston Zoo/Taylor Rhoades

The fishing community can find the locations of all the fishing line recycling bins in Galveston County by visiting the TXMN-GBAC Facebook page “Fishing Line – Recycle Yours in Galveston County”. There is an interactive Google map that provides the location with a pointer blue bubble. Click on the blue bubble to see directions and a photo of the monofilament recycling bin at each location.

If you live in the Houston/Galveston area and would like to get involved in the P3P’s fishing line recycling campaign, or would like more information on this work, please contact :

These efforts positively impact Texas’ people, prosperity, and natural resources. Read more blogs on Texan by Nature’s website here. If you’re interested in creating a blog to be featured on Texan by Nature’s website contact us at for more information.