Florida wildlife official urges skyway hunters and bird rescuers to “work together” to stop snag birds

The head of the Florida Wildlife Agency urges unity and sharing among hunters and bird advocates Tensions are running high On how to prevent seabirds from being trapped in fishing gear at the Skyway Fishing Pier.

There have been nearly 3,300 seabirds in need of rescue from the popular fishing spot since January 2021 after they were tethered or wrapped in fishing gear, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Wildlife Committee Suggest new rules for huntersa move some bird rescuers say is too lenient and won’t completely solve the problem – while the hunting community calls the proposal an overreach.

Now, after enthusiastic public feedback in late November from both fishermen and environmental groups alike, the agency chief wants all Skyway stakeholders to “come to the negotiating table” to find an amicable solution.

“The frequency of entanglements resulting in serious injury or death of seabirds is increasing,” Chief Rodney Barretto wrote in a letter Wednesday to fishermen and pelican advocacy groups.

“Over the next few months, there will be multiple opportunities for your input and participation to determine the appropriate course of action that will address this complex issue,” Pareto wrote. “We are asking our management partners, hunters, pelican rescue organizations, and other interested stakeholders to come to the table and work together to develop a solution for pelicans and hunters.”

Pelicans sit by the South Sunshine Skyway fishing pier on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, in St. Petersburg.  Roughly 75% of pier bird rescues are pelicans, and wildlife officials are considering new rules to prevent them from being tangled.
Pelicans sit by the South Sunshine Skyway fishing pier on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, in St. Petersburg. Roughly 75% of pier bird rescues are pelicans, and wildlife officials are considering new rules to prevent them from being tangled. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

The letter comes after Pareto said, during a committee meeting in December, that he wanted to “send a clear message from the Commission that we have to solve this problem”. Pareto said he wanted to present the draft rules at the committee’s meeting in February.

State data shows that in two years, at least 1,000 birds have required veterinary care and 500 have died due to entanglement in the sidewalk beside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The Wildlife Commission suggests banning gear with more than one hook, such as treble hooks and sabiki rigs, and limiting anglers to no more than three sets of hook gear within the park, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The coalition of environmental groups wants to take a step further with the proposed regulations, such as allowing only one fishing per person and closing the north end of the south pier for angling, according to A December letter sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Pelican, the Southwest Florida Conservancy and the Humane Society of the United States signed the letter.

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Many fishermen who fish regularly at the pier oppose any new regulations altogether. many members Skyway Misfits, an online fishing community with millions of followers on social media, set in a virtual meeting on November 21 to oppose potential rule changes. Many members have taken issue with how bird rescuers lure injured birds in order to capture them, and claim that the practice attracts more birds. Meanwhile, bird defense groups such as Pelican friends He says hunting rule changes are overdue.

“Triple hooks are extremely harmful,” Kim Begay, vice president of Pelican Friends, told the panel. “The losses that are taken are totally unacceptable.”

If the new fishing rules are eventually adopted, they must expire after one year, according to Capt. Dylan Hubbard, president of the Florida Guides Association. That way, the biologists, hunters, and ecologists on the committee can examine whether or not regulations are working to prevent bird entanglement.

“Something like that would be easier to swallow,” Hubbard told the Tampa Bay Times in mid-December. “Nothing hurts me as a hunter more than a bird flying away with a fishing line. But it’s an educational problem: New hunters are hunting swans and they don’t know how to act.”

At the committee meeting in December, top wildlife officials, including Pareto, agreed that bird entanglement was a serious problem for which there was no easy solution. Pareto reiterated this week that something needed to be done.

“It is the Commission’s duty to ensure the responsible recreation and enjoyment of Florida’s wildlife and fish resources while minimizing the potential for severe harm these activities may cause to wildlife,” Pareto wrote in the letter on Wednesday.

below: Read President Rodney Barretto’s full letter to Skyway Fishing Pier stakeholders

Cover more times on Skyway Pier

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