Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

Mind Your Line to Protect Pelicans

April 12, 2021
Mind Your Line, a collaborative effort among Sanibel-Captiva conservation organizations, is issuing a plea to local fishing enthusiasts—especially users of the popular Punta Rassa Boat Ramp—to use smart practices to protect the region’s majestic brown pelicans.
The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty and included in the state’s Imperiled Species Management Plan. Nonetheless, a leading cause of lethal injury in pelicans and other shorebirds is fishing hooks and monofilament entanglement.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in anglers on the water seeking outdoor, socially distanced recreation or fishing to feed their families in the face of economic hardship. As a result, many boat ramps and fishing piers in the region have seen an uptick in the number of injured and entangled wildlife—particularly brown pelicans.
As a member of Mind Your Line, SCCF is working with local partners to spread the word about proper fishing practices to reduce harmful impacts on birdlife. The popular Punta Rassa Boat Ramp on the mainland at the east end of the Sanibel Causeway has been the site of a steady stream of disturbing cases because a large group of pelicans, mostly juveniles, hang around the docks and the ramp daily. As fishing charters and private boats return to the ramp and fish-cleaning station, these pelicans gather around and beg for handouts. Many of these birds are suffering from embedded fishing hooks or monofilament entanglement. Others have torn pouches from trying to swallow bony fish carcasses.
Volunteers, county parks staff, and good Samaritans have been able to corral and deliver them to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) for treatment, but often the injuries are too severe, and the birds do not survive.
An especially traumatic incident happened recently when a juvenile brown pelican became trapped in the fish-cleaning station’s carcass grinding machine. SCCF’s shorebird biologist and intern returned to the ramp to gain a better understanding of the situation. They observed countless individuals with embedded hooks and pouch injuries. On two out of three visits last week, they captured hooked birds to deliver to CROW.
Though there is signage indicating it is illegal to feed wildlife, people still do it—intentionally or unintentionally—by improperly disposing of carcasses and bait in the water.
Please visit the Mind Your Line website at for information about proper ways to discard monofilament and fishing gear and how to unhook a bird. If you have questions, please email
Tips for Responsible Fishing
  • Do not feed fish scraps to the pelicans or discard carcasses in the water.
  • If caught on a line, reel the bird in slowly to prevent further injury. Place a net under the pelican as soon as you are able to reduce stress and commotion, which can cause more injury.
  • Remove the hook by cutting the barb and pushing it backwards to remove. 
  • Release the pelican if it is healthy. If it is not, call CROW (239) 472-3644.


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