Wildlife officials are proposing new rules for Skyway fishermen to reduce bird deaths

While Florida wildlife officials grapple with how to reduce the number of seabirds Get entangled in fishing gear At the crowded Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, new rules Wednesday night proposed an attempt to find a middle ground between anglers and bird advocates who have disagreed for months over a solution.

Florida Wildlife Division Chief Erica Burgess wasted no time addressing differences of opinion at the outset of the virtual Skyway Pier discussion.

“Everyone who joins us tonight feels passionate about this subject, but not everyone sees eye to eye,” Burgess told the audience of about 120 people, including fishermen, environmental advocates and state employees. “This makes this issue very difficult and controversial.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission then revealed its updated proposal to reduce bird entanglement: They’re considering banning fishing gear with multiple hooks, such as sabiki rigs and treble hooks, between November and March each year. More than 1,500 seabirds needed to be rescued from clashes between November 2021 and March 2022, and the proposed gear ban would coincide with the season in which entanglements peak each year.

Related: Florida environmentalists want forage to nest in bird snags at Skyway’s fishing pier

The committee also wants to limit anglers to no more than two fishing poles in the water at a time, as well as ban the use of Sabiki platforms in part of the south pier year-round, according to the proposal. A sabiki rig usually has at least six small hooks and is used to catch baitfish. Wildlife officials have documentation that pelicans were involved in hooking young sabiky at the pier.

Wildlife officials said they will also put in place mandatory seabird entanglement education and collect data to determine if the regulations are working, with the option to stop the regulations after an unspecified period of time.

Pelicans sitting by a fishing pier on the South Sunshine Skyway in November.
Pelicans sitting by a fishing pier on the South Sunshine Skyway in November. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

“Regulatory action is necessary to reduce severe entanglement in the Skyway,” said Callie Spurgeon, a biologist with the Florida Wildlife Commission, while explaining the state’s reasons for why the new rules are in place.

“Potential gear limitations would reduce the frequency of severe entanglements and difficult bird rescues, reducing the burden on both recreational hunters and wildlife rescuers alike,” Spurgen said.

As of November, at least 1,000 birds had been in need of veterinary care and 500 had died since January 2021 after they were tied or wrapped in fishing gear at the popular fishing spot next to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, according to data provided by the state.

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

To address the problem, the commission in November proposed limiting anglers to no more than three sets of hook and line equipment within the park and a blanket ban on gear with multiple hooks. Frequent pier hunters have called any new rules a premature overreach, while bird conservation groups like the Bradenton-based Friends of the Pelicans call pier “Pelican death row” and say gear with multiple hooks should be banned all year, as the commission initially suggested. .

Few in either camp seemed entirely satisfied with the state’s newly proposed plan to reduce bird entanglement on Wednesday.

“I feel there is a need to keep these types of hooks off the pavement 12 months of the year,” said Eddie Drest, a member of Friends of the Pelicans. “It’s about constraining those types of hooks, which should reduce problems overall.”

In December, six environmental organizations Urge the federal government to intervene To prevent further entanglement of birds, he proposed stricter regulations than those currently being discussed, including allowing one fishing pole per person and closing the north end of the south pier.

A sign listing steps to prevent seabird entanglement is displayed at the North Sunshine Skyway fishing pier.
A sign listing steps to prevent seabird entanglement is displayed at the North Sunshine Skyway fishing pier. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Hunters oppose any new restrictions and claim that the rules will interfere with their ability to recreate.

“Hunters came to the table and conducted negotiations in good faith, but were only met with no bidding from other stakeholder groups,” Capt. Dylan Hubbard, president of the Florida Guides Association, said during the meeting.

Earlier this month, Florida Wildlife Agency chief Rodney Barretto urged unity and engagement among hunters and bird advocates. Pareto said he wanted to present the draft rules at the committee’s next meeting in February.

“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 problem,” Pareto wrote in a letter to hunters and environmentalists Jan. 4.

“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.”

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