The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 16 No. 24 - April 13, 2016

reel time

Protecting seabirds

Reel time

rusty chinnis | sun

Seabirds are a valuable resource and an angler’s friend.

The first sign of action was vague and a few miles in the distance. Without the clue we got from the terns and pelicans wheeling above the water’s surface we may never have found the frenzy of feeding little tunny we encountered as we motored closer to the action. Thanks to the birds we enjoyed some fast action, following the birds as they tracked the movement of the schools below the water’s surface.

When local anglers fish the bays and gulf waters they share that space with numerous seabirds. All too often they find themselves having to deal with one of these birds when they are inadvertently hooked.

This is home for the birds and they are a valuable resource for anglers often leading them to the fish that they’re seeking. Problems develop when seabirds, particularly terns and pelicans, mistake the bait anglers’ use as an easy meal. They can also be hooked by anglers using flies and artificial lures when they cast into feeding fish that the birds hover over. Trouble ensues if the fisherman doesn’t know how to properly deal with the situation. All too often the line breaks and the birds trail it to their eventual roost.

When anglers fishing the mangroves make an errant long cast, hooking the trees by mistake, they sometimes end up breaking the line and leaving it dangling in the trees. Whether they come in contact with discarded fishing line in the mangroves, or they take line to their roosts after becoming hooked it can become a death trap for the birds.

It is important when this happens to follow a few simple guidelines that will prevent the encounter from being deadly to the birds. If you hook a seabird while fishing, make sure that you fight it to the boat just like you would a fish to prevent it from breaking your line. Use your drag and work the bird to the boat where it can be held while the hook is removed. Care should be taken with all birds, because they don’t know you’re trying to help them, and their sharp beaks can inflict a nasty wound.

If you’re careful, it can be released without harm to you or the bird. Start by placing a towel over the bird’s head. This will calm it and protect you from sharp bills. Handle birds carefully because their bones are light, hollow and fragile. Cautiously unwind the line from wings and feet, remove any hooks and then check the bird carefully before releasing it. If you see a hooked or tangled bird in an active rookery, don’t approach it if it's nesting season. Often a well meaning human can cause more harm than good by causing startled young birds to fall from the nest.

The incidence of anglers hooking birds can be reduced by never feeding birds, a practice that causes birds to look for a handout. When you’re fishing, be aware of birds that might be eyeing your bait. It’s easy to pull the bait or lure out of harm’s way at the last second before a gull, pelican or tern dives on it.

Taking care of the environment that feeds our passion is every angler’s responsibility. Follow these simple guidelines with our angling allies: be aware of their presence, take care in handling them, and never feed them. If you see a bird in distress and it's not nesting season you can free it. If it swims or flies away on its own that's all you'll need to do. If you believe it is too weak to recover on its own, take it to Save Our Seabirds on City Island or call 941-388-3010.

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