Florida Fishermen Battle Bottlenose Dolphins

Guns, explosives used to keep dolphins away from their catches

By Brian Hamacher
|  Friday, Jun 26, 2009  |  Updated 1:26 PM EDT
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Florida Fishermen Battle Bottlenose Dolphins

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You may have caught it, but he wants to eat it.

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Of all the sea creatures that humans must deal with, friendly dolphins figured to be the least of man's underwater worries.

But that doesn't seem to be the case in Florida, where the battle between fisherman and Flipper rages on.

Bottlenose dolphins are increasingly becoming more aggresssive toward the fresh catch on the end of fishing lines, and everyone from boat captains to amateur anglers are resorting to brutal means to keep the dolphins away from their hooked fish.

Guns and pipe bombs are just some of the devices being used illegally to shoo away and in many cases kill the dolphins, which are protected by a federal law prohibiting the harming of sea mammals.

"You have people who are getting so frustrated they're shooting at them," said Bob Zales of Panama City, a fisherman for over four decades and president of the National Association of Charter Boat Operators.

One Florida boat captain is spending two years in prison for tossing pipe bombs at dolphins, and two other captains, one from Florida and another from Alabama, were given probation and fined $1,000 each after admitting they shot at dolphins stealing fish from their boats. One said he used a .357 Magnum.

Since 2005, nearly 50 dolphins have died along the Florida coast after either swallowing recreational fishing gear or becoming entangled in lines, according to NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.

With rising fuel costs and a dwindling supply, boaters, especially those who make a living off what they catch, are getting increasingly aggravated, though a resolution doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight.

"It's a very complex management issue for us because it is such a widespread problem," said Stacey Hortsman, with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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