JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — Treasure Coast fishermen are getting a second chance to prove they deserve to have access to a favorite fishing spot.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Protecting Paradise
The Florida Department of Transportation in January banned fishing from the Jensen Beach Causeway because litter was becoming a big problem.
The Indian Riverkeeper and Martin County leaders worked together to convince FDOT to let anglers have one more chance to act responsibly. FDOT removed the no fishing signs this week.
Indian Riverkeeper Executive Director Mike Conner said the bridge has been an ideal and popular spot for fishing for years.
"Bridges squeeze the current. Fish come there to feed. It's no secret. It’s a very good fishing spot," Conner said.
Fisherman Chuck Riece said the no fishing signs posted in January took him and many others off guard.
"Well, I wasn't happy about it," Riece said.
"I can't say it wasn't justified. When I saw they did close it, it came as no surprise because over the years [litter] was embarrassing at times," Conner said.
Litter from food wrappers to rotting bait was getting in the way of walkers, but Conner said he and fellow board members, along with other fishermen and business owners, are committed to improving the amount of trash left behind.
FDOT is giving them a 90-day "probationary period."
"I look forward to changing the culture here," Conner said.
Conner said they want to work on improving communication to anglers about the threat of losing the popular fishing spot, encouraging them to take their trash with them and enforce the one-rod rule to prevent obstructing pedestrians on the bridge.
He also wants to prevent cast netting -- throwing out a net to catch bait.
"Cast netting leaves a lot of dead bait and trash, and that attracts rats. It's a terrible situation," Conner said.
He also wants law enforcement to step up their efforts to enforce littering laws, but there is still an issue out of their control.
There are trash cans located underneath the bridge, but none on the top of the bridge where most people prefer to cast their lines.
"Government entities need to work with the residents and provide proper signage, proper trash cans and proper ways for people to dispose of their trash," said Merritt Matheson, vice mayor of Stuart and Indian Riverkeeper board member.
While the bridge is not in Stuart's jurisdiction, Matheson knows it's still a popular spot for people who live in Stuart.
Matheson said getting the litter under control is the only way to ensure the bridge remains a public access fishing spot for future generations of fishermen.
"If they lose the bridge this time, they'll never ever get it back," Conner said.