In today’s world of ever increasing concerns, anglers face a plethora of challenges when it comes to wildlife encounters on the water.
Not only is this important because there are state and federal laws protecting dolphins, manatee, whales, porpoise, seals and sea lions, but foremost because marine mammals play a critical role in our marine ecosystem. Also the majority of these animals are classified as depleted, endangered, or threatened. Of particular concern are the right, humpback, sperm and fin whales, as well as bottlenose dolphin, manatee and harbor porpoise.
First off it is illegal to feed any marine mammals. If these animals grow accustomed to eating bait, chum, released fish or any other handouts, they tend to lose their natural wariness of humans. Unfortunately acclimation to humans makes marine mammals more susceptible to gear entanglements and boat collisions. It also can increase the chances they lose their ability to forage in the wild, become “nuisance animals.”
How can you protect marine mammal? Avoid fishing in areas where marine mammals are active. Don’t chum or release fish into waters where these critters are feeding. NOAA Fisheries recommend staying at least 50 yards away from all dolphins, porpoise, and whales, and Federal law prohibits all approaches to right whales within 500 yards.
Common sense tells us it’s probably best to avoid catching and releasing fish in the presence of dolphin or seals. It’s understandably difficult for anglers to leave feeding fish to get away from “nuisance animals” however, these animals learn fast to follow boats catching fish and it becomes a chronic problem very quickly.
Of course, you don’t ever want to leave fishing gear unattended; or dispose of fishing line in the water. Even the small pieces of line or plastic can be harmful to marine mammals if entangled or ingested. You should also avoid dumping leftover bait, take it home and freeze it for your next trip. Use circle hook and corrodible hooks to reduce injure to fish, dolphins, and sea turtles. Periodically inspect your gear and terminal tackle to avoid unwanted line breaks.
Here’s a few more common sense tips that should help you avoid dangerous and unlawful marine mammal encounters. Obey posted speed limits and “No Entry” areas and all local laws and regulations when fishing or boating in marine mammal areas. You can better protect marine mammal habitat by using push pole, paddle or a trolling motor when near grass beds.
Remember we can all do a better job of protecting the wonderful natural resources provided to us by being mindful of how we approach our fishing.