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Exploring the Potential Effects of Lost or Discarded Soft Plastic Fishing Lures on Fish and the Environment


As the popularity and use of soft plastic lures (SPLs) by recreational anglers have increased in recent years, so does the number of anecdotal reports of SPLs being found in aquatic environments and in the digestive tract of a variety of fish species. We used a multistep approach to determine the possible consequences of SPLs on fish and aquatic environments. Field work focussed on lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomeiu) in Charleston Lake in eastern Ontario, a system identified by resource managers and the lake association as potentially having an SPL problem based on numerous anecdotal reports from anglers. Snorkel surveys revealed that the deposition rate of SPLs was potentially as high as ~80 per km of shoreline per year. In the laboratory, eight different types of SPLs were immersed in water at two temperatures (4 and 21 °C) for a 2-year period to evaluate change in SPL size (both swelling and decomposition). Despite SPLs varying by manufacturer and in composition, there was little evidence of decomposition. Indeed, most SPLs swelled and remained that way throughout the study. In cold water, SPLs increased an average of 61 % in weight and 19 % in length, while warm water treatments experienced an increase of 205 % in weight and 39 % in length. A summer creel survey conducted on Charleston Lake revealed that 17.9 % of anglers interviewed reported finding at least one ingested SPL when cleaning lake trout. However, when we sampled lake trout (using gill nets) and smallmouth bass (by rod and reel), we found few ingested SPLs (2.2 and 3.4 %, respectively). Based on the examination of fish that contained SPLs and the near-shore surveys, the most common SPLs were soft stick baits/wacky worms. The most promising approach to address the SPL problem is to educate anglers about the need to rig SPLs in a manner such that they are less likely to be lost during fishing and to always discard SPLs appropriately. Moreover, the tackle industry should continue to investigate SPLs that are less likely to be pulled off by fish and/or that degrade rapidly.

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We are indebted to Dwayne Struthers and the Charleston Lake Cottagers Association for providing financial support for this research. We also thank Anne Bendig with OMNR for allowing us to incorporate questions on SPLs into their creel surveys. OMNR also provided gill nets for lake trout netting. Cooke is supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program. Scientific Collection Permits were provided by the OMNR and animal care clearances from the Carleton University Animal Care Committee.

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Correspondence to S. J. Cooke.

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Raison, T., Nagrodski, A., Suski, C.D. et al. Exploring the Potential Effects of Lost or Discarded Soft Plastic Fishing Lures on Fish and the Environment. Water Air Soil Pollut 225, 1869 (2014).

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  • Fishing
  • Discarded gear
  • Lakes
  • Water pollution
  • Freshwater