Local pelicans injured by fishing lines

August 5, 2008 6:57:18 PM PDT
Pelicans are being badly injured by fishing lines with multiple hooks in Santa Cruz. It's such a problem, that state Fish and Game is closing one pier to fishermen.

To the casual observer, it made quite a show -- thousands of pelicans swarming and diving for small fish off the Capitola Wharf.

"Oh I think it's wonderful. Nature doing its thing," said one onlooker.

But up close, it's a different perspective. At the end of a young man's line, there is not a fish, but one of a pelican hooked and unable to get away. It happened more than once.

"How often do they get hooked?" asked ABC7's Wayne Freedman.

"All the time," said fisherman Burt Lunsford.

"How many?" asked Freedman.

"Three?" said Lunsford.

"In how long?" asked Freedman.

"Twenty minutes," said Lunsford.

There have been more. In the past four days, bird rescue volunteer Tricia Wilson says she picked up nine birds bloodied and maimed by fishing lines.

"It can range from one little hook to a fishing line wrapped around the legs and wrapped around the feet. The injuries can range from minor to fatal," said Wilson.

The problem, according to wildlife advocates, is that pelicans remain an endangered species, and this has been a particularly bad year.

Just last week, the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield took in its 70th pelican of the season. That's 1,500 percent more birds than last year. Most of the ones brought in suffer from malnutrition.

But with an endangered species already stressed, California's Department of Fish and Game has begun clamping down. On Tuesday morning, it asked state park rangers to close the Seacliff Pier in Aptos because of birds getting tangled in fishermen's lines.

"We did have several pelicans who were hooked by fishermen over the course of the day, so we made the decision at least until the population moves on to keep it closed," said state park ranger Bill Wolcott.

But for today, at least, the Capitola Municipal Wharf remained open. Fishermen there tell us they hooked many more birds than fish. It's an entirely new definition for catch and release.

"It's a horrible death. A lot of suffering," said Wilson.

We're told that as long as they are not intentionally harming the pelicans those fisherman aren't breaking any laws.

Federal wildlife officials have proposed taking the California Brown Pelican off the endangered species list, which could happen by next year.


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