STOCKHOLM — The Swedish parliament building sits on a small island within the swarming archipelago that comprises the country’s capital city. If you stand beside its stone edifice long enough, you’ll notice a point jutting out into the chilly, swirling waters below. And if you keep a close eye on that point, you’ll notice something unusual, something you wouldn’t see in any major U.S. city—fishermen.

Beside their tackle bags, you’ll find a sign.

“The city of Stockholm welcomes you to fish her waters free of charge. Every year anglers catch hundreds of salmon and sea trout…This map shows where fast flowing stretches of water usually occur, i.e., good salmon and sea trout habitats.”

Scandinavian anglers have long known this hidden secret of Stockholm. The city is loaded with world-class salmon and sea trout. You can catch them from the sidewalks. It should be no surprise then that Stockholm’s water is regarded as some of the cleanest in the world.

In February, 4,700 miles away in Paducah, Kentucky, Dr. Andreas Fath was completing a 34-day swim of the Tennessee River. En route, Fath collected water samples from one of bass fishing’s most renowned fisheries—the waters that create both this and next year’s Bassmaster Classic venues.

The samples were horrifying.

Results revealed that the Tennessee River is one of the most plastic-polluted waterways in the world, clocking in at 18,000 micro plastic parties per cubic meter of water in some places. Though research methods varied slightly, those figures are still twice as high as the Yangtze River in China. They’re higher than the industry-dominated Rhine River in Germany. In fact, they’re higher than almost anywhere in the world.

To this, I ask our industry: What are we doing?

Few people are as directly impacted by water pollution as anglers. And few industries are as directly impacted by the health of marine life as ours.

According to Fath, almost 48% of the plastics found in the Tennessee River come from polyethylene—the most frequently used form of plastic found in plastic bags. A further 17% came from polypropylene, a material commonly used for lightweight plastic packaging, i.e., single-use plastics.

Fath’s research concluded that microplastic levels were uniformly high for nearly the entire length of the river. The endgame? If you were to  hoist a Tennessee River bass or catfish or crappie or carp from a Knoxville or Chattanooga sidewalk, its belly would likely be loaded with microscopic particles of plastic.

The plastic problem

Plastic bags, straws, bottle caps, food packaging, and, in this case, lure packaging, are all common examples of single-use plastics, meaning these items are difficult or impossible to recycle. In some countries, like Sweden, that difficulty is overcome by advanced recycling programs.

In America, we are behind the times. The Swedish government reports that 47% of all plastics in the country are recycled. That’s part of a larger figure in which more than 90% of all total waste is recycled—only 1% of which finds itself in a landfill.

The country is actually so efficient at recycling that they import garbage from the United Kingdom to burn for power plant fuel.

In the States, the figures are grim. Just 9% of plastics in America are recycled, a drop in the bucket of the pitiful 34% of overall solid wastes recycled.

Fishing for a solution to single-use plastics

One of the primary offenders in the fishing industry is rigid packaging. Rigid plastics include blister packs and clamshell packaging. Both are incredibly difficult, and sometimes impossible, to recycle.  That means most spinnerbaits, hard lures, and soft plastic lures that contain individual packaging are extremely unlikely to find their way to a recycling plant. Instead, they’re much more likely to end up in a landfill.

Worse yet, they could be lost overboard. Over time, it’s possible for those plastics to break down into smaller pieces and eventually make their way to waterways, water supplies, or the belly of a fish.

Thankfully, alternative packaging solutions like paperboard and fiber packaging are already beginning to see a rise in popularity in other industries. The fishing industry, therefore, doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. We only need to adjust consumer awareness and expectations of product packaging: there are more fishery-friendly ways to package those premium soft plastics.

The need for a plan

According to American Sportfishing Association (ASA) President Glenn Hughes, the sport’s leading lobbying organization has no official stance on single-use plastics as yet. However, ASA Vice President of Government Affairs Mike Leonard says plastics have recently garnered attention thanks to a California bill proposing the elimination of single-use plastics and packaging by 2030.

B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland says that B.A.S.S. has no official plans to combat single use plastics, though he notes that the conversation is gaining traction among B.A.S.S. Nation conservation directors.

From October 8-11, this industry will gather for the ASA Sportfishing Summit in Stevenson, Washington. By then, we’ll have had an entire summer to ponder the impact of Dr. Fath’s research, consider plastic packaging alternatives, and hopefully, to work out the beginnings of a plan. Creating one is vital to the future of our sport. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got a bridge in Sweden to show you.