Freeport resident and avid fisherman Steve Underwood wants his old fishing spots back and he is not alone. Before the U.S. Hwy. 331 bridge construction, several popular fishing spots along the causeway north of the bridge offered a variety of locations to reel in a fish and launch a boat. Although happy about the new Thomas Pilcher Park on the southern end, it’s not a location where the fish are always biting according to Underwood.
“The fishermen in this area have gone from seven boat ramp locations and eight fishing spots to one single spot only accessible from the south requiring U-turns for access and exit to the north,” said Underwood.
Although some of the previous areas are still easily accessible and off the roadway, no parking signs have been positioned along the road by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). In addition, warnings have been issued to violators.
Freeport resident Paul Hill has been asked to leave by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office three times while fishing from the causeway shorelines, even though there are no signs indicating fishing is not permitted.
“They said it was a safety issue, but I’ve never seen any issues,” said Hill.
Lifelong Freeport resident Price Farmer is particularly disappointed in the inability to reel in a fish as he relies on it for sustenance.
“I fish to eat,” Farmer said.
The FDOT public information office provided the following after an initial inquiry:
Per Florida Statute 316.1305 Fishing from state road bridges —
(1) The Department of Transportation is authorized to investigate and determine whether it is detrimental to traffic safety or dangerous to human life for any person to fish from a state road bridge. When the Department of Transportation, after due investigation, determines that it is dangerous for persons to fish from such a bridge, it shall post appropriate signs on the bridge stating that fishing from the bridge is prohibited.
(2) Fishing from a bridge upon which the Department of Transportation has posted signs as provided in subsection (1) is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a pedestrian violation as provided in chapter 318.
(3) This section is cumulative and is not intended to repeal any special law making it unlawful to fish from any bridge.
Underwood has reached out to Tanya Branton, Public Information Specialist for FDOT hoping to get more answers and finding a resolve.
“Tanya Branton was very willing to listen and went on the Google maps website with me so that I could point out the exact areas we feel should still be open to fishing. She has agreed to go to the proper person/persons in the department to find out if any investigation was ever done concerning the safety of these areas. The statute she quoted stated that if an area was found to be unsafe it would be marked with no fishing signs. These areas are not. They are only marked with blank yellow reflectors,” said Underwood.
Underwood has started a petition in protest to the closed fishing areas, and has had a sizeable response from the fishing community. Hundreds of signatures have been obtained at several locations in the community.
Interested in signing the petition? The following businesses are collecting signatures: Copeland’s Gun and Tackle Shop 17290 U.S. Hwy. 331 S, Freeport, BJ’s Bait and Feed 19323 US Hwy 331 S Freeport, Franks Cash & Carry Freeport and Grayton Beach, Black Creek Cafe 25B McDaniel Fish Camp Road Freeport, The Outpost 4576 County Highway 3280 Freeport, and Freeport Café, 39 State Highway 20 E, Freeport.