Monday, December 18, 2017
Outdoors

Audubon looks to curb fishing line bird deaths with new brochure

BRANDON — It's a haunting sight to come upon, and after so many replays a wildlife warden loses count.

Birds — or the skeletal remains of birds — dangle eerily above the ground as though in a shock scene from a horror film. Only a close look reveals the killer: a strand of ultrathin fishing line tangled around a leg or a wing, tethering it to a tree branch.

The scenes that really get to Ann Paul, veteran of more than two decades of island patrol in Tampa Bay for Audubon Florida, are the ones with a parent bird suspended only a few feet from its nest. She pictures the adult, unable to fly away to find food or reach its chicks, forced to hear the hungry cries of starving offspring or watch as a predator makes a meal of the next generation.

"They'll hang there helpless, and they'll hang for hours. There's nothing they can do," Paul said, adding that the cause of death is usually dehydration.

"I think that's a pretty tragic situation. Here you have a healthy adult doing all the things birds need to do — find a mate, make a nest, raise its young — and now it's doomed to a slow and agonizing death."

Avian advocates are appealing to fishermen to help curb the death toll by changing some common practices on fishing piers. In addition, Audubon Florida has teamed up with the Tampa and Manatee County Audubon chapters to produce a brochure with photos and step-by-step instructions on how to reel in and remove fishing hooks from brown pelicans, the species most often ensnared at locations like the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers.

For two decades, local wildlife advocates have staged fishing line cleanups and provided receptacles for safe disposal of monofilament line at popular fishing spots.

Still the birds die. No scientific estimates have been made, but Paul is certain the death toll is in the thousands each year across Florida. Often a monofilament strand snatched from a fishing pier will ensnare not only the bird trailing it but other critters as well.

"I think it's much more of an impact on wildlife than any of us ever realized," she said. "Up until recently … we didn't realize the problem is starting at the (fishing) piers."

Seabirds and wading birds of all kinds, including many at risk of extinction, routinely fall prey to stray monofilament that a hooked pelican carries away when a fisherman cuts the line, Paul said. Brown pelicans are particularly susceptible because of their predilection for mooching leftover bait or unwanted fish parts at the piers' cleaning stations. With a nearly 7-foot wingspan, the birds can appear daunting to reel in and assist, but actually they are one of the easiest seabirds to handle, Paul said.

One trick to prevent accidentally hooking a bird is to shake the fishing line periodically, so that the sun's rays make it more easily seen by a pelican soaring past a row of rods hanging over the water, Paul said. She also suggested fishermen wait a few minutes to cast if a bird is close by. Anglers can also help by covering bait buckets, filleting their catch away from the pier and properly disposing of fish scraps, she said.

Lee Fox, who has nursed countless injured seabirds at rehabilitation stations in Pinellas and Sarasota counties, said young pelicans are the most common fishing line casualties she has seen.

"Pelicans bring baby pelicans to the piers, and that's where the injuries are happening," Fox said. "That's where they bring the kids, and they think that's where they get their food."

Now operating a rehab center, Save All Birds, in Wimauma, Fox is the only licensed seabird rehabilitator in Hillsborough County on a list maintained by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But she said she is not currently set up to nurse many pelicans, and she is focusing more on birds of prey and common inland species like the sandhill crane. Even those birds occasionally show up at rehab injured by fishing line.

Last month, Fox released a great blue heron brought to her because its leg was ensnared. The bird can fly but Fox predicted it will always walk with a limp.

Jamie Foster, who runs bait shops on the two Skyway fishing piers, said a staff member has been assigned to answer calls from fishermen who accidentally snag birds and a safe holding area has been created for injured birds waiting for rescue. She and Tampa Audubon volunteer Sandy Reed of Valrico have organized a task force to come up with additional measures.

Initial efforts have focused on major fishing piers, but Reed said birds fall prey to fishing line at Lettuce Lake and E.G. Simmons county parks, as well as other popular fishing sites.

"I feel like we've made a lot of progress," Reed said. "But at the same time, we're only scratching the surface of this enormous problem."

Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Captainís Corner: Go with live shrimp in deep water

Water temperatures are around 62 degrees throughout most of the bay, so bait has pushed off deep and, for the most part, been ineffective. The cooler water has the fish hunkered down and their metabolism has slowed. When this happens, the inshore fis...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Captainís Corner: Bottom fishing is good with dropping gulf water temperatures

The past few weeks have delivered lots of cold air, dropping water temperatures in the gulf. Thermometers are reading in the low 60s. This is going to change a few things closer to shore. Anglers will find an absence of kingfish on many of the spots ...
Published: 12/16/17

Captainís Corner: Look for that strong speckled trout bite on grass flats

The speckled trout bite has taken off nicely after the first good cold front last weekend. You will find a consistent bite along the grass flats from Apollo Beach down to Pinellas Point. The sweet spot seems to be 4-6 feet of water. If you can find s...
Published: 12/15/17

Captainís Corner: Drop in gulf water temperature means itís sea trout time

The gulf temperature has dropped significantly since our first real cold front last week. One day the water was in the mid 70s, then after the front, it fell to the low 60s. That caused speckled sea trout to become a reliable target. Redfish have bee...
Published: 12/14/17

Captainís Corner: Good time for shallow-water flats fishing

Shallow-water flats fishing can be very exciting this time of year. Trout and redfish are available in good numbers, and the opportunities to catch some gator trout have made recent trips very rewarding. Some of the largest trout have been in very sk...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17

Captainís Corner: Seek clear water for bottom fishing as temperatures plummet

The great weather, calm seas and exceptional fishing we experienced at the end of November and beginning of December came to a screeching halt with the cold front that came through. Surface water temperatures plummeted from an unseasonable 71 degrees...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/12/17

Captainís Corner: Sheepshead action lively in cooler weather

Conditions after the cold front are cool and are going to be for a while. That doesnít mean you canít or shouldnít fish. Many anglers get stuck on snook, reds and trout and forget how fun it is to catch sheepshead. Many reefs are already holding good...
Published: 12/09/17
Updated: 12/10/17

Captainís Corner: Fishing will return to normal, but when?

The severity of this cold front will determine the fishing forecast for the next several days. Bait that had been abundant inshore will scatter. Nearshore gulf waters will muddy, and water temperatures. at least temporarily. will plummet. How cold, h...
Published: 12/08/17
Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

I canít believe we are in the last month of the year. And while this is one of my favorite months to fish, it will be controlled by weather. As cold fronts become more frequent and harsh, planning your trips around them will make the biggest differen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/09/17

Captainís Corner: Strong results for redfish, speckled trout

This is a great time for variety. Combined trips for speckled trout and redfish are achieving excellent results. With the correct approach, great catches of both species are a reality now. The best anglers use the lightest tackle. Light rods and reel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17