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FWC conducts workshop to explore ways to help pelicans at Sunshine Skyway fishing pier

Thousands of pelicans had to be rescued from possible death by becoming entangled in fishing lines and hooks in the past several years. A compromise between bird advocates and fishermen is in the works.

Environmental groups asked federal wildlife officials to step in after more than 2,300 pelicans had to be rescued in the past two years from becoming entangled in fishing lines at the Sunshine Skyway south pier.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to solve the problem. During a virtual workshop Wednesday night, they tried to reach a compromise between anglers and advocates for the pelicans.

"We genuinely appreciate the ethical fishermen who are embracing these compromises and working together in a really positive way, and we agree on several points," Kate McFall, Florida state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said during the virtual meeting. "But the most important changes we have to see are the closing of the very end of the pier, prohibiting the multi-pronged hooks and lastly to require that anglers have a normal Florida fishing license from the FWC."

Some bird advocates want fishing banned in the busy winter months. And other want the state to hire full-time rescuers that are available to help anglers when they have entanglements.

Several fishermen said they believe educating anglers about the problem would be more beneficial to the birds than banning fishing gear.

Robert Olsen said more regulations are not a solution.

"I fish the Skyway pier frequently and I've never caught a pelican. But if I did, I don't know what to do in that case," Olsen said. "So I believe that a permit should be required, with the education of what to do involved in obtaining that permit for every angler that fishes the Skyway pier."

A fisherman who identified himself only as "Ed" supports a compromise.

"There needs to be some kind of rule, as you're trying to set forth, for these birds so we can protect these birds," he said. "At the same time, I think as a fisherman there has to be some kind of a give and take for both sides, as I think you're trying to do at this point."

Wildlife officials will give their recommendations at an upcoming meeting of the board of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.