The discovery of a bald eagle that died apparently after becoming entangled in a “limb line” at Goat Rock Reservoir highlights the hazards that unattended fishing gear can pose to wildlife.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff found the immature eagle Sept. 21 on the Georgia side of Goat Rock, a Chattahoochee River reservoir north of Columbus. The bird was hooked at the base of one wing. The carcass had partially decomposed, suggesting the eagle had been in the water several days.
A limb line is a type of sport trotline where a short length of line with a hook is tied to a tree limb overhanging the water’s edge and baited for fish. Like all trotlines, limb lines must be marked with the owner’s name and address, checked at least every 24 hours, and removed after the fishing trip. The line attached to the eagle was not marked.
Bird encounters with fishing gear are not necessarily commonplace, but they do warrant attention, according to Jim Ozier, a Nongame Conservation Section program manager with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
It’s something that’s easily avoidable in most cases,” said Ozier, who leads the DNR’s annual bald eagle surveys.
In the spring, biologists spotted an osprey at Lake Oconee with a fishing lure hooked to its foot. Last summer, a Pennsylvania wildlife officer rescued a bald eagle tangled in fishing line. A Georgia Power Co. biologist found an eagle hooked by a limb line on the Altamaha River several years ago. That bird was also rescued and released.
Responsible anglers monitor their trotlines and make a reasonable effort to retrieve lost gear such as lures and line. “Being good stewards of the resource is important,” said Fisheries Chief John Biagi of the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
Limb lines can also be a hazard for boaters and other anglers. Ozier said he has had several close encounters with abandoned limb lines while canoeing Georgia streams.
Bald eagles are thriving in Georgia compared to only a few years ago. Surveys this year counted 124 occupied nesting territories, 98 successful nests and 162 young fledged, totals that are all up from 2008. These raptors, removed from the federal endangered/threatened species list in 2008 but still protected, are nesting in suitable habitat across the state, taking advantage of reservoirs and ponds that offer their primary prey – fish.
There are two known eagle-nesting territories on Goat Rock, one in Georgia and the other in Alabama.