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FWC will gather and finalize new rules for fishing on the Skyway Pier

 FWC lists the hazards to birds from fishing gear, with an inset image of the Skyway Pier and many pelicans and seagulls resting on it and flying over it.
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary
A bird is resting atop a blue towel with a multi-pronged fish hook in its face

This comes after dozens of meetings with stakeholders, including avian rescue groups, anglers, wildlife conservation groups, pier concessionaires, local and state government representatives, and others.

Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Skyway Fishing Pier each year to drop a line in and try to reel back a fish or two. But many times, seabirds are caught in the fishing line, and that could prove fatal for them.

From the forthcoming FWC Presentation: "According to a study by Thomas and Forys in 2022, the average number of entangled pelicans counted at South Skyway Pier is higher than at all other Tampa Bay piers combined."

The main culprits for entanglement according to those who rescue and help birds to heal—are lightweight fishing line, fishing rigs that have many single hooks and lures with many hooks, which could cause severe injury or death of brown pelicans, whose nests and habitats are close to the pier.

Melissa Edwards is the Avian Hospital Director at the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores.

 FWC lists the hazards to birds from fishing gear, with an inset image of the Skyway Pier and many pelicans and seagulls resting on the pier and flying over it.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
FWC lists the hazards to birds from fishing gear.

She welcomes the proposed rule changes. "Sometimes we'll get birds that have three different hooks in their face, and their face is attached to their wing, just you know, trying to fight to get out of those so those can cause significant damage," she said.

They treat about 500 injured birds each year.

"We’ll get great blue herons, snowy egrets or great egrets and occasionally, we’ll get skimmers or other shorebirds that definitely get entangled and trailing line on other birds. We had a pelican that was dragging a skimmer along with it through the water, we’ve had a few different things like that," she said.

She said a lot of the injuries are treatable and the birds can be rehabilitated, but "at least 25 percent of the birds are euthanized upon arrival, depending on how severe the injury is. But soft tissue injuries can be really complicated and lead to a significant loss of mobility...so immediate intervention or prevention is really the key" to helping the birds recover.

The key, Edwards said, will be enforcement of the new FWC rules, which also require an annual education requirement.

 A brown pelican sits on an examination table with a large fishing lure and fishing line beside it.
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary
A brown pelican with a large fishing lure beside it.

If you should see birds while you are out fishing, avoid casting near groups of birds, Edwards said.

"If you do accidentally hook a bird, we recommend you open your bale, let a little line slack to come out, and sometimes they can wriggle out."

"But if they are definitely hooked, reel them in slowly, throw a towel or a shirt over their head (to calm them), push the hook through to expose the barb and cut the barb off or flatten it and remove it," she said.

But if the bird is severely injured, Edwards said to reach out to the nearest bird rescuer.

According to the FWC website, staff recommends the Commission approve rules to set up regulations for the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park to cut down on the number of severe entanglements to brown pelicans and other seabirds:

  • Establish an annual education requirement for anglers;
  • Prohibit the use of hook and line gear with more than one hook (e.g., sabiki rig, chicken rig, topwater plug) or any multiple hook (e.g., treble hook) from November 15 through March 15 each year;
  • Limit anglers to using no more than two sets of hook and line fishing gear; and
  • Review these regulations two years after implementation. Staff would monitor the effectiveness of these rules and report back to the Commission to inform any potential action two years after implementation.

The FWC statewide meeting on the new rules is Wednesday morning at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.