SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — One hundred or more brown pelicans have likely died after becoming entangled in fishing longline.
Seventy have washed up this week on Boca Chica beach, and 23 were reported on South Padre Island shores.
More have undoubtedly been consumed by predators in the Gulf or scavenged by coyotes along the beach.
Cameron County Marine Extension Agent Tony Reisinger and United States Fish and Wildlife biologist Stephanie Bilodeau examined the dead pelicans on Boca Chica and found nearly all of them had circle hooks embedded in their bills.
“I have never seen anything like this. I think this was a freak accident. The pelicans, each of them, most of them were hooked in their beak by circle hooks from a longline. They were wrapped up and twisted up in the line, and it was very tragic,” Reisinger said.
Both United States Fish and Wildlife officers and Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens are investigating the unprecedented deaths. Captain Chris Dowdy, with Texas Parks and Wildlife, believes the pelicans likely perished in the Gulf of Mexico south of the Rio Grande.
“We believe that most of the birds that washed up on Boca Chica beach due to currents were probably coming out of Mexican waters,” said Dowdy.
However, incursion into federal and state waters by illegal Mexican fishermen is an ongoing problem, and since September wardens have confiscated approximately three miles of longline and some 3,500 feet of gill net.
After careful examination of the carcasses and fishing gear, Marine Extension Agent Tony Reisinger believes the longline was baited at depth but somehow broke loose and floated to the surface where the pelicans, unfortunately, spotted a potential meal.
“It was a shock. I saw eight pelicans twisted up in one piece of longline, each of them had a circle hook in their mouths, and one pelican had nine wraps on its wings so you know they fought…it’s tragic,” Reisinger said.