Conservancy of Southwest Florida aims to protect pelicans from fishing gear at Naples Pier
Nearly 200 injured pelicans were transported to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital last year after getting snared in fishing gear along the Naples Pier.
The hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida proposed a suite of solutions to Naples City Council on Monday to reduce the number of injured wildlife getting snagged with hooks at the city landmark.
Those solutions include removing the bulk fishing license at the pier, limiting the hours anglers can fish on the pier, increasing the patrol coverage and providing educational outreach.
“I just want you to know that everything we have attempted to do is a very balanced approach based on a lot of research and a lot of data and also appears to be similar to communities across the state of Florida,” Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy, said at the meeting.
Von Arx Wildlife Hospital Executive Director Joanna Fitzgerald said that while pelicans have become the “poster bird” for injuries at the Pier, calls come in about other shorebirds as well as turtles and dolphins.
“Our budget can’t sustain these numbers of injured animals,” Fitzgerald said. “Over $70,000 is contributed by the Conservancy to rehabilitate injured animals — and that’s actually just pelican numbers. That’s not including any other species.”
Fitzgerald outlined a multi-pronged approach for the City Council to consider.
To curb inexperienced and undereducated anglers from fishing on the Pier, Fitzgerald recommended the city remove the bulk license that enables anyone to fish from the Pier without a state license.
“That will reduce the number of people who come to the Pier to fish just because it’s free,” she said. “There are many exemptions that exist, so many anglers currently fishing regularly at the pier can continue to do so.”
Some of those exemptions are anglers older than 65 and younger than 16 as well as some military exemptions.
Fitzgerald also proposed giving wildlife a respite by limiting the hours anglers can use the Pier.
Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler spoke to council during the Conservancy’s presentation about continuing to fund the Pier outreach, or Pelican Patrol, position.
Funding for the position expires June 20, and council agreed to extend it through Sept. 30.
The position would require an additional $6,525.
“We strongly support our partnership with the Conservancy and support everything they’ve been doing,” Weschler said. “This is part time, and we have funds available.”
Council agreed to have the city’s Community Services Advisory Board take up the issues of bulk permits, outreach and education and revision of an ordinance that would fine those possessing treble and other large hooks.
The advisory board is on summer recess and will not meet again until August.
“As a council, we certainly will want to be a good partner with (the Conservancy) and the good work you’re doing for wildlife,” Mayor Teresa Heitmann said.
During the meeting, Conservancy board member Sharon von Arx spoke in favor of the recommended solutions. She and her husband, Dolph, were the lead donors for the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.
“My husband and I have been involved with the Conservancy since the early ‘90s. It’s our love,” von Arx said. “ We have to do something to help save the Pier.”
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (239) 260-9329. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk