Protecting our Pelicans: Responsible fishing helps save lives

October 29, 2021

By Joanna Fitzgerald | von Arx Wildlife Hospital Director

Naples is a bird sanctuary that’s home to more than 170 species of birds, including the brown pelican. 

Frequently found along coastal waters, pelicans feed on fish, catching them at or near the water surface. Pelicans have quickly learned that piers and people equal food sources. That’s why they are drawn to fishing hotspots, including the Naples Pier.

As anglers and birds go after the same good catch, the increasingly common result is injury.

When a pelican scoops up the same fish hooked by an angler or becomes tangled in fishing line, it faces horrific injuries and in some cases, death. 

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating native wildlife in Southwest Florida.

During the height of season, the Conservancy admits up to five brown pelicans per day from the Naples Pier, as well as royal terns, osprey, ruddy turnstones and double-crested cormorants.

In 2020, injured pelican admissions to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital increased 112% compared with 2019.

Taking it to the Council

While we have a team of dedicated staff and volunteers, our budget and resources can no longer sustain the rising numbers of injured animals. 

The Conservancy has worked to educate and prevent injuries to pelicans at the Naples Pier for over thirty years.

In the past 10 years, the Conservancy has collaborated with the City of Naples on angler education to lessen the frequency and severity of injuries at the Naples Pier.

In addition to signage, the City of Naples added two Pelican Patrol staff members that provides coverage of 30 hours per week for 5 months.

  • This means during 92% of the year, there is no patrol or assistance for shorebirds injured at the Naples Pier. 
  • Analysis of data showed one Pelican Patrol member assisted 96 birds working only 15 hours a week for 5 months.
  • 45% of the birds suffered significant injuries and were brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care. 

Additionally, the Conservancy has been fortunate to have a grant-funded, year-round outreach staff member for the past three years. His work brought awareness to the fact that injuries are occurring year-round. These efforts are often supported by a cadre of concerned, responsible and experienced anglers at the pier.

Despite these efforts, the number of birds injured continues unabated.

How You Can Help

At this point, a multi-prong approach is needed to reduce injuries to pelicans and other shorebirds at the Naples Pier. The proposed recommendations are meant to create a balance between angling activities at the Naples Pier and the health and needs of native wildlife.

These recommendations will lessen the severity and number of injuries while allowing anglers to continue fishing from the Naples Pier.

To provide wildlife time to forage without dangers from hooks and lines, the Conservancy recommends closing the Naples Pier to fishing on Wednesdays, from January through May on a trial basis.

This means that the Naples Pier will still be open for anglers 86% of the time during this trial period. A survey of piers in Florida showed 57% limit angling activity.

Additionally, the Conservancy recommends year-round Pelican Patrol staff coverage. Enforcement is also recommended to encourage respect of the rules. 

The Naples City Council will hear recommendations for addressing these issues and we ask for the public’s support by attending the City Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 1 starting at 8:30 AM. See button below for more info.

Let’s continue to work together to prevent injuries and suffering affecting native wildlife at the Naples Pier and ensure pelicans and other species thrive alongside the myriad of coastal activitiesProtection of our native wildlife is in all our hands.

Please call the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at 239-262-2273 if you need information on how to properly assist an animal in distress.