The Naples City Council voted to extend the Sunday fishing ban at the Naples Pier through June 2023 in an effort to cut down on the pelican injuries that were taking place.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has worked with the Naples City Council on minimizing the shorebird injuries on the Naples Pier for over two decades.
Our early conservation efforts at the pier involved extensive signage and a brief educational video to educate anglers and guests on how to prevent pelican injuries and what to do if a bird is accidentally hooked. Our informational signage design was so effective, that multiple municipalities throughout Florida have adapted the sign for use on their piers.
Injuries and admissions continued to rise; in 2013, we worked with Naples City Council to implement a ban on treble hooks to lessen the severity, not frequency, of pelican injuries. In conjunction with the treble hook ban, the Conservancy and the City of Naples shared the cost for two seasonal part-time Pier Outreach: Pelican Patrol staff for a year.
The following year, the City incorporated the total cost of the two part-time seasonal Pelican Patrol staff into the City budget. In late 2018, the Conservancy hired a part-time seasonal Pelican Patrol and Outreach staff person funded through a family foundation grant. This staffer is on the pier educating and saving shorebirds on our behalf.
However, when there was a 112% increase in pelican admissions in 2020 compared with 2019, the measures we were currently taking seemed to be not enough.
The Conservancy was prompted to speak up once again about the intense increase of fishing-related wildlife admissions from the Naples Pier and approached City Council in April of 2021 for assistance.
Some of our suggestions brought to the city council included limiting the hours that anglers were allowed to fish to lessen the frequency of these severe injuries and an increase in coverage by the pier patrol staff to provide more rescue assistance and education on the pier.
Our request was to adopt a pilot program to restrict fishing one day a week at the pier during the months of January through May 2022. This was approved by City Council on December 15, 2021. The Mayor recommended Sunday as the day to restrict fishing activities on the pier; Council Members voted 5-2 in favor of the recommendation.
Our ongoing role was to give data updates once the program ended so that the city council could revisit the ban, its effectiveness, and if it should stay for a year. We brought the data to the City Council: January through May 2020, 119 pelicans were admitted to the wildlife hospital versus 87 in 2021.
Recently, the pilot program ended and the issue was up for discussion again. This time the Naples City Council voted 6-1 to extend the program for a year to further prevent pelican injuries.
Since the Sunday ban was enforced in 2022, there have been 37 pelicans brought to the hospital. It was clearly evident that the fishing restriction was making a positive impact on wildlife admissions.
We anticipate that the admissions will remain at lower levels during this extended period. Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital states, “The whole reason we came to them [City Council] is because of the number of animals injured every year, specifically from fishing-related activities at the pier. It’s an obvious cause and effect.”
The Conservancy believes that reducing the fishing hours at the Naples Pier means fewer hooks and lines that could inflict serious damage to our local wildlife and we have already seen a dramatic change. “Since the beginning, we have been trying to find a balance,” Fitzgerald says. “We’re not saying don’t fish ever, but we can have a more balanced approach to where this isn’t so detrimental to not only pelicans but marine life as a whole.”
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida will continue to monitor the admissions and will present the findings to the City Council when the issue is discussed again in 2023.