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Fishing restrictions to protect pelicans are enacted at the Sunshine Skyway south fishing pier

A pelican surveys the scene at the Sunshine Skyway
Florida State Parks
A pelican surveys the scene at the Sunshine Skyway

The moves are intended to protect pelicans, which nest nearby at rookeries along the mouth of Tampa Bay.

New rules were approved Wednesday to protect pelicans that become entangled in fishing lines at the Sunshine Skyway south fishing pier. The rules are a compromise between safeguarding the birds and the rights of anglers.

The new rules will prohibit the use of multiple hook fishing lines from November 15 through March 15 and limit anglers to no more than two fishing rigs at a time. Anglers would also have to take an education course on how not to ensnare the birds.

They're intended to protect pelicans lured from nearby nesting areas. Thousands of birds have been ensnared in fishing lines in the past several years and countless more have died from their injuries.

Also, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will have a full-time staffer at the pier to help educate the public about the new rules and how they can avoid entangling pelicans.

"I think that this is a great beginning of trying to resolve this issue for both sides," said commission Chairman Rodney Barreto. "And everybody gave a little bit, and everybody gave up a little bit."

A move by vice chair Steven Hudson to ban multiple hooks year-round during the daylight hours when pelicans are active failed to get a second.

"This is a very challenging and contentious topic," said commission staffer Erica Burgess. "There is no universally agreed-upon resolution to this issue. However, staff's recommendation addresses the problem of entanglement, while continuing to allow fishing at this very special location."

The restrictions will be in effect for two years and would then be reviewed.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Bird advocates say the rules fail to protect the pelicans, which nest in nearby rookeries. But their call for closing the south pier part of the year was rejected.

“It’s a relief the commission finally put some protections in place, but they fall far short of what’s needed to protect Tampa Bay’s migratory birds,” said Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It's especially disappointing that the commission didn’t pass Commissioner Hudson's commonsense amendment to prohibit damaging sabiki rigs year-round during daytime hours.

"We know thousands of birds are severely entangled all year long. It makes no sense to approve gear restrictions for only four months a year. Commissioners have just endorsed harming protected migratory birds for most of the year.”

The center was one of several environmental groups that sent a
letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2022. The letter urged the federal agency to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act if Florida didn't rein in threats to protected coastal birds at the pier.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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