Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 15, 2022


Elise Bennett, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 755-6950,
Jeanette Edwards, Friends of the Pelicans, (941) 345-1653,
Katy Hennig, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, (239) 380-1715,
Kate MacFall, Humane Society of The United States, (850) 508-1001,

Federal Officials Urged to Save Coastal Birds at Florida State Park

Hundreds of Birds Hooked, Entangled Each Year at Skyway Fishing Pier

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Conservation groups sent a letter today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act if Florida doesn’t swiftly rein in threats to protected coastal birds at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier State Park.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Pelicans, Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Humane Society of the United States and American Bird Conservancy note that state-sanctioned fishing activities at the Skyway fishing pier are injuring and killing brown pelicans and other migratory coastal birds at a massive scale when they become hooked or entangled in gear.

Over the past two years, volunteers with Friends of the Pelicans have rescued more than 2,300 birds. They have witnessed even more injured or dead birds at the pier and nearby rookeries.

“We’re witnessing so many seabirds suffer and die around the Skyway fishing pier week after week, and it has to stop,” said Jeanette Edwards, founder of Friends of the Pelicans. “We believe that Florida can and should take meaningful steps to make angling at the pier safer for birds and more enjoyable for the people fishing there. It’s part of the state’s responsibility to protect our wildlife — for us and for future generations to enjoy.”

Today’s letter asserts that the state agencies operating, managing and regulating the Skyway fishing pier have failed to effectively curtail this vast harm to coastal birds, as demonstrated by ongoing entanglement and hooking incidents.

“It’s devastating that so many migratory birds are being injured and killed at the Skyway, and the state’s lethal mismanagement violates federal law,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If Florida doesn’t move quickly to truly safeguard protected migratory birds at the pier, then the Fish and Wildlife Service must intervene. The state can’t continue to rely on volunteers’ altruism to deal with the fallout of its own ineffective management.”

The large number of birds injured and killed at the pier, which is close to important coastal rookeries at the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuge, could cause declines in the estuary’s bird populations.

“The unique wildlife of our community is under unprecedented pressure from all of us,” said Patrick Mundus, vice president of Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges. “We need everyone to work together to preserve our Tampa Bay home as a place for wildlife and people.”

“Our successful work to make the Naples Pier safer for shorebirds shows that Florida can and should do more to protect migratory birds at the Skyway too,” said Joanna Fitzgerald, hospital director at Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s von Arx Wildlife Hospital. “The Conservancy, Naples City Council and the Naples Police Department worked together to reduce and prevent injuries to shorebirds at the Naples Pier by banning the use and possession of multiple-hook gear, limiting days and times when the pier can be used for fishing, and prohibiting leaving hooks and gear unattended. Changes like these can help balance recreational angling and protecting migratory birds.”

“It’s unfortunate that Florida Department of Environmental Protection has failed to ensure there are enough full-time bird rescuers on staff and that they have not attempted to modify the Skyway’s hours of operation, especially at night,” said Kate MacFall, Florida state director with Humane Society of the United States. “These basic mitigation policies would help decrease the number of birds harmed or killed and improve the experience for fishers as well.”

Today’s letter provides a list of actions the state must take to ensure fishing activities at the pier are safe for coastal birds and anglers. These include hiring multiple full-time bird rescuers, limiting anglers to using one pole at a time, which must remain in the angler’s control, and prohibiting multiple-hook gear. The groups also suggest full or partial closure of the north end of the south pier, where harmful entanglements are most frequent.


The Skyway fishing pier consists of the remains of the former Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which partially collapsed during a vessel collision in 1980. After renovating the bridge’s remaining portions, the Florida Department of Transportation leased it in 1994 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to administer as a state park.

Because of its unique size and height, the Skyway fishing pier is deadlier to birds than any another other pier in the state. The pier’s length and height make it difficult to rescue hooked or entangled birds. Without assistance from trained rescuers, anglers often cut the line, a likely death sentence for the bird.

When anglers use multiple fishing poles, lines extending as far as 150 feet from the pier create a maze for coastal birds to navigate, often causing them to pull fishing poles entirely into the water. Gear with multiple hooks can leave gashes and tears in pelicans’ pouches and may require surgery if swallowed.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918 to implement the United States’ international treaty commitments to protect populations of migratory birds. Its provisions prohibit the purposeful and incidental take of migratory birds without prior authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Tampa Bay Estuary is home to many species of pelican, gull, egret, heron and other coastal birds protected under the Act.

Bird populations in North America are plummeting, with 3 billion birds having disappeared from the continent since 1970.

Pelican hooked
Entangled pelican at Sunshine Skyway Rocks, Tampa Bay. Photo by Captain Nick Graham. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Pelicans is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect the right of all birds—pelicans in particular—to live out their lives free from harm caused by human interference, including fishing line entanglement.

Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote conservation, awareness, and appreciation of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges, and to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with their mission for those Refuges. We accomplish this through outreach, education, advocacy, and volunteering to protect the nesting and resting wading birds, seabirds, and other wildlife on the refuges as well as protecting the habitat they need to thrive.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a not-for-profit environmental protection organization with a 57-year history focused on the issues impacting the water, land, wildlife and future of Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.

Founded in 1954, the Humane Society of the United States fights the big fights to end suffering for all animals. Together with millions of supporters, we take on puppy mills, factory farms, trophy hunts, animal testing and other cruel industries. With our affiliates, we rescue and care for tens of thousands of animals every year through our animal rescue team’s work and other hands-on animal care services. We fight all forms of animal cruelty to achieve the vision behind our name: A humane society. Learn more about our work at

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