Dolphins are a common inhabitant of our bays, bayous, and gulf waters. Dolphins have a social nature and we have a chance to see them often when out on a fishing trip. While seeing them cannot help but add to the experience, there are things we can do to ensure that the no harm comes from these encounters for either fishermen or dolphins.
In recent years there have been incidents of dolphins ‘stalking fishing boats’, waiting for released fish, and stealing bait or the catch from fishing lines near piers and boats. This behavior has been reinforced by our human behavior of feeding the dolphins. It is illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection act to feed dolphins and release catch (sometimes unavoidably) in their vicinity. A consequence of these interactions is that a rising number of dolphins are being injured or killed by ingesting gear or becoming entangled in lines and discarded fishing gear.
Practice these dolphin safety tips when fishing:
Don’t feed the dolphins: When you feed dolphins, whether it is intentional or not, you teach them to follow for food, and that puts them dangerously close to fishing gear and boat propellers where injuries and fatal accidents occur to them.
Don’t dump your leftover bait: Reuse or share leftover bait. You can freeze leftover bait many times, or share it with your fellow fishermen. If you dump leftover bait in the presence of dolphins you are luring them to come close and teaching them to beg or steal bait and catch.
Reel in your line if dolphins appear: When you see dolphins approaching, reel in and wait for them to pass. You will avoid the possible loss of your bait and catch, and you will avoid harming the dolphins. Do not cast toward dolphins at anytime.
Move to another location if dolphins show an interest in your catch: This is the best way to avoid accidentally hooking a dolphin and prevent possible loss of the catch or damage to your gear.
Release catch quietly and not near dolphins: Do so when and where it is possible without violating any state or federal fishing regulations.
Avoid unwanted line breaks: Check your gear and terminal tackle often to make sure they are in good repair. Gear in the water is harmful to wildlife if they become entangled in it or ingest it. Even the smallest amount of gear in the water can be harmful to dolphins.
Use non stainless circle hooks when fishing with live/cut bait: Using circle hooks helps prevent injuring fish, dolphins, and sea turtles since non-stainless hooks eventually dissolve.
Recycle fishing line: If a recycling bin isn’t near, cut up used fishing line and put in a tightly sealed trash container to insure that scavengers will not get to the line.
Store your trash. Carry it home or place in a tightly sealed trash can.
Call the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Enforcement Division at 1-800- 853-1964 to report the feeding or harassment of dolphins. Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 to report an injured or entangled dolphin, or other wildlife.