NAPLES, Fla. — An online petition protesting the changes to fishing hours at the Naples Pier is gaining traction this week.
But as local anglers fight against the changes, animal experts say the new rules are vital for protecting wildlife near the pier.
“When’s there’s angling activity, and the birds that congregate there, there’s always injuries that ensue,” said Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital.
Injuries to pelicans are happening more and more, Fitzgerald said.
Last year Von Arx, which is part of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, treated nearly 200 injured pelicans. This week the animal hospital has more than 40 pelicans it’s treating.
Reducing the fishing hours at the Naples Pier means fewer hooks and lines in the water that can do damage to these birds.
"We’re trying to find a balance,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not saying don’t fish ever, but can we have more balanced approach to where isn’t so detrimental not only pelicans but marine life.”
Last week the Naples City Council banned fishing at Naples Pier on Sundays, and from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day. The restrictions are temporary, lasting only January through May when traffic at the pier is busiest.
Von Arx can get up to 10 hurt pelicans a day during the winter months, Fitzgerald said. The hospital’s director hopes that eliminating fishing on for 22 Sundays could save 50 pelicans or more.
Bianco, 19, grew up fishing on the pier, and he’s worried city officials will continue to restrict access to it.
While he’s against eliminating fishing on any day, Bianco said he’d prefer to do it on a weekday.
"Why have it on Sunday, which is a big day for families to go out,” Bianco said. “A lot of tourism we have in Naples comes on Sundays. I've met people all over the world who come Sunday, Saturday, Friday to fish. I don’t think they want to miss out on that.”
Bianco also wants to keep night fishing available for locals.
"A lot of people work throughout the day,” Bianco said. “I’ve had times where I work all day just wanting to go sit back fishing at the pier with my friends and family, and I don’t want to have to leave at 11 o’clock."
Vor Arx officials tell us that last year the hospital spent $70,000 alone on rehabbing pelicans. The rising cost of care is putting a strain on the nonprofit hospital’s budget.
The Conservancy said it could put that money toward its mission of protecting all of Southwest Florida’s water, land, animals and environment.