The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to address a pressing concern at the iconic Skyway Fishing Pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, by introducing new rules aimed at safeguarding seabirds from injuries caused by fishing wire and hooks. The Commission’s quarterly meeting, being held in St. Pete this week, will serve as the platform for the final decision on these crucial regulations.
The issue has been a matter of concern for bird advocates who have been advocating for protective measures for several months. Annually, nearly 2,000 seabirds, especially pelicans, fall victim to entanglement in fishing lines or hooks near the Skyway Pier. To address this urgent problem, the FWC has conducted multiple public hearings, and now, they are on the verge of implementing vital changes.
According to the meeting’s agenda, the recommended modifications from the FWC staff include:
Educating Anglers about the Dangers to the Birds
To raise awareness and promote responsible fishing practices, anglers will receive essential information about the potential harm posed to seabirds.
A Seasonal Ban on Sabiki Rigs or Fishing Rigs with More Than One Hook
From Mid-November to Mid-March, a seasonal prohibition will be imposed on the use of sabiki rigs or fishing rigs equipped with more than one hook, to reduce the risk of bird entanglement during peak seabird migration periods.
Limiting Anglers to No More Than Two Sets of Fishing Gear
By restricting anglers to a maximum of two sets of fishing gear, the likelihood of multiple hooks being left unattended and posing hazards to seabirds will be minimized.
Despite these proposed rules, some bird advocates, like Kim Begay from Friends of Pelicans, believe they may not go far enough to provide adequate protection for the birds. Begay stresses the obligation of the FWC to uphold federal laws, specifically the migratory bird treaty act, in safeguarding these vulnerable species. She emphasizes that while compromise is commendable, the agency must not lose sight of its responsibility in safeguarding the birds.
However, not all anglers are in favor of stricter regulations. Captain Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard’s Marina cautions that overly restrictive rules could pose challenges for those who rely on fishing for sustenance. He points out that certain fishing techniques, such as using sabiki rigs and treble hooks, are essential for catching specific fish like mackerel and kingfish.
In case the new rules receive approval during the meeting, FWC staff is advocating for a comprehensive review of their effectiveness within two years. This review will determine whether the regulations have achieved the desired outcomes and will serve as the basis for potential expansion or repeal if necessary. If passed, the new rules are anticipated to take effect on October 1, providing a hopeful step towards protecting the precious seabirds around the Skyway Fishing Pier.