Fish Florida grant helps get the message out to anglers and recreational boaters in southwest Florida
By Kim Bassos-Hull, MS
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, more than 6.6 million recreational anglers
took more than 29.3 million saltwater fishing trips statewide in Florida during 2006. The area to the south of Sarasota Bay along the west coast of Florida is known for its exceptional fishing and is also prime dolphin habitat. These waters include Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, Estero Bay (near Fort Myers), Rookery Bay (near Naples and Marco Island), and the Ten Thousand Islands (Charlotte, Lee, and Collier county areas). In recent years, the SDRP has documented through direct observation and opportunistic reporting from anglers, an increase in angler/dolphin interactions and dolphin entanglements in southwest Florida. In 2003 and 2004, two dolphins, Placida and Toro, were rescued after they were found entangled in fishing line in Charlotte Harbor. In 2007 we began to get reports from Bryan Fluech, the Collier County Sea Grant agent, and Sea Excursions, an ecotour group based on Marco Island, about the increased problem of dolphins stalking fishing boats or anglers fishing from local piers. The dolphins were stealing the bait or catch off the line or just after the angler released it, frustrating anglers. Both Bryan and Sea Excursions had learned of the research and outreach that the SDRP was doing in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and Charlotte Harbor and requested that we jointly initiate an education campaign in Collier County.
In 2008, Collier Sea Grant and the SDRP applied for and were rewarded with a grant from Fish Florida to embark on an outreach campaign in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. This campaign includes involving the Sea Grant agents from these three counties as well as local fishing guides and ecotour operators as avenues to get information to anglers and others that might be recreating in coastal waters and come into contact with dolphins. The goals and products of the outreach program will be to: (1) create a Powerpoint presentation on dolphin behavior and depredation issues as well as dolphin-friendly fishing practices available for distribution to Sea Grant agents and interested educators, (2) speak to local ecotour providers, fishing clubs, and boating clubs on dolphin research in southwest Florida highlighting conservation and human impact issues, (3) create 1,000 personal-sized fishing line recycling bins filled with educational materials and distribute to local anglers, (4) reprint 16,000 “Dolphin-Friendly Fishing and Viewing Tips” cards that that will be handed out to anglers at piers, docks, fishing clubs, tournaments, and outreach events, (5) create three retractable educational display banners that can be used in conjunction with the dolphin presentations, or as stand alone displays at public events to help raise awareness on the issues of recycling fishing line and incorporating responsible dolphin-friendly fishing practices. We hope to get feedback from stakeholders to evaluate the success of the program and to determine the possibility of expanding the program state-wide.