Anglers barred from popular fishing spot after gators get aggressive

Alligators, like this one spotted in The Acreage in 2011, tend to hunt opportunistically, not aggressively, said David Hitzig of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

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.

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This alligator was removed from the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge after it became aggressive. Refuge managers believe people were illegally feeding it. Photo courtesy of Barry Willette/USFWS Volunteer

“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.

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“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.

A fisherman at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge’s southern corner, far west of Boca Raton in 2017. (The Palm Beach Post/Eliot Kleinberg)

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.

Related: 7-foot gator wanders outside Florida elementary school

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.

 

2017 Florida alligator harvest applications open

The phase one application period for Florida’s annual alligator harvest is open through May 22.

In 2016, 7,145 alligators were harvested. That’s a 6.7 percent increase from 2015. The average length of alligator harvested last year was 8 feet, 2.7 inches.

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Lake County and Polk County had the highest number of alligators harvested in 2016 with 334 and 237 harvested respectively.

About 5,000 alligator hunt permits will be issued from a lottery that typical draws 10,000 applicants.

Related: Girl pries herself from gator’s mouth during attack

The hunting season begins August 15 and ends the morning of November 1. The first four weeks of the season are divided into four quota weeks, and each permit is assigned one of those weeks. Legal hunting hours are 5 p.m. through 10 a.m.

Each permit, which costs residents $272 and out-of-state applicants $1,022, allows a hunter two alligator kills per season.

The harvest areas and hunt dates are specific for each permit, and the permits specify the boundaries or limitations of the harvest area.

Related: Florida man goes up against alligator in bid to save dog

For more information on the annual harvest go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website .

Alligators — like this one spotted in The Acreage in 2011 — tend to hunt opportunistically, not aggressively, said David Hitzig of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. They rarely attack the same prey. That’s what makes the two-gator attack at Disney World in June that killed a 2-year-old boy so rare. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)