A popular fishing spot in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge will be temporarily off limits to anglers after alligators accustomed to getting free meals from humans have become increasingly aggressive.
Veronica Kelly, a spokeswoman for the refuge, said several alligators have been removed and euthanized after approaching people in an area where fisherman have been seen feeding them.
One of the gators was more than 12-feet long.
“We’ve had 11 violation notices for feeding and enticing alligators since March,” Kelly said. “We regularly get calls about people feeding them, but usually by the time the officer arrives the people are gone.”
The area, which will be off limits to bank fishing through Nov. 2, stretches about 100 yards north and south of the Lee Road Boat Ramp. The ban includes fishing from the fishing platform, boat dock, and boat ramp areas.
“When gators get used to being around humans, it totally changes their behavior and they start coming to people for food,” Kelly said.
In one incident, a fisherman reported an alligator tried to jump in his boat. Another person reported being chased by a gator.
The maximum penalty for feeding alligators could be up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.
Kelly said the refuge hopes the gators that frequent the area will get hungry and leave by Nov. 2. The refuge includes 141,000 acres west of Boynton Beach.
“On national wildlife refuges, wildlife comes first,” a refuge press release says. “Refuges are set aside for the protection of wildlife and their habitat first and foremost.”
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are an estimated 1.3 million alligators in the state.
Alligators are under federal protection as a species. It’s a designation that recognizes a need to keep alligators from being excessively hunted, but also makes allowances to kill a gator considered a nuisance or dangerous.
Between 1948 and through 2017, there have been 401 alligator attacks in Florida with 24 fatalities. In June, an alligator killed 47-year-old Plantation resident Shizuka Matsuki while she walked her dogs in Davie’s Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
To report instances of people feeding alligators or other wildlife violations while at the refuge, call 800-307-5789.