Debate continues on preventing seabird entanglement at Sunshine Skyway Pier

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The debate over fishing regulations at the Sunshine Skyway Pier continued Thursday night at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting.

“I’m really confident that we’re not that far from what we want,” said Travis Thompson.

Thompson is with the conservation group All Florida. Thousands of seabirds have been rescued from entanglements at the pier in the past two years, according to the FWC.

While anglers and others who make a living off the pier want restricted restrictions, others see it in a different light.

“What we’ve seen over the decades is that it’s a bird death trap,” said Elise Bennett, director for Florida and the Caribbean at the Center for Biological Diversity.

According to the FWC, heavy tangles on the pier are a serious problem, especially with multi-hook equipment such as sabiki rigs, chicken rigs or treble hooks.

“These shorebirds have suffered for a long time,” Bennett explained. “And we have data that shows many of them are badly entangled and killed.”

Two control options are proposed.

  1. All year round, multi-hook equipment (sabiki rigs, chicken rigs, treble hooks, etc.) is prohibited from dawn until 12 noon.
  2. Ban on multi-hook gear (sabiki rigs, chicken rigs, triplets, etc.) all day, but only from November to February.

“Nobody wants to see dead pelicans,” Thompson said. “No one wants to see tangled pelicans. But we also want people to be able to get out and enjoy fishing.”

Thompson was hoping for just a three-month lockdown, but recognizes that not everyone will get what they want.

“It’s also a really accessible fishing area for people with disabilities,” Thompson said of the pier. “Or subsistence fishermen, people who don’t have a boat or can’t afford to go out and enjoy the water in any other way.”

Bennett hopes the FWC implements restrictions throughout the year.

“These birds have been struggling for decades,” Bennett said. “This may impact populations of our brown pelicans, our herons and many other birds that live in the nearby mangroves.”

The organization plans to review the impact of its chosen regulations after two years. There is no exact timetable for the implementation of the restrictions, but there is still a final hearing on the FWC rules on July 19 or 20 before decisions are made.

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