AC drops fishing wire plan to deter seagulls

January 28, 2008 6:14:04 PM PST
Seagulls 1, Atlantic City 0. That's the score at the shore now that this gambling resort is scrapping a plan to string fishing wire across its Boardwalk to deter seagulls from swooping down and snatching food from unsuspecting diners.

Animal rights groups decried it and engineers said it might be risky, but business leaders ultimately decided that the plan just wouldn't work.

"We came to the conclusion that it would be a very, very difficult project to do on the Boardwalk," said Don Guardian, executive director of the Atlantic City Special Improvement District, which floated the idea of a seagull shield last month.

Boardwalk business groups now plan to address the problem by installing dome-shaped covers over garbage cans, erecting "Don't Feed The Seagulls" signs and asking the city to enforce an ordinance already on its books prohibiting the feeding of seagulls.

It provides for $50 fines for violators.

"We are very pleased and heartened to hear that humane options were considered," said Stephanie Bell, a spokeswoman for people for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "We were concerned that the birds would have been injured, that their wings would have been broken. And these lines would almost immediately go slack, becoming a dangerous snare not only for seagulls but for other coastal birds as well."

The original plan was to string strands of fishing wire above the Boardwalk in several spots to deter the birds from swooping down and annoying people eating below. The thinking was that the birds would shy away from the wires, not wanting to get entangled in them.

The problem dates back more than a century. When the Boardwalk was built in 1870, seagulls soon learned that where there were people there also was food. Over the years, the proliferation of pizza and french fry stands - along with trendy seafood bistros once the casinos arrived - only expanded the menu for the birds.

"The birds realize that people food is a lot easier than the food they're supposed to eat - clams, fish, things like that," Guardian said. "They can't tell if a person is opening his hand to feed them something or if they're doing something else entirely, so they dive in anyway. They are certainly very aggressive in their behavior."

At one particular pizza parlor, seagulls and pigeons routinely walk or flutter right inside the restaurant, which has its doors open in the summer, to try to snatch food from unsuspecting customers.

But people are part of the problem, too. On any given day, several people can be seen feeding crumbs, pieces of bread, pizza crusts or other food to gulls along the Boardwalk.

The fishing wire plan has worked in several spots near the Boardwalk, including beach bars operated by the Atlantic City Hilton, Bally's Atlantic City and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.

But the idea of swathing large sections of the walkway with it proved problematic.

First, Guardian said, if the wires were attached to light poles, that would bind them all together and put great pressure on each one during windy conditions.

More importantly, the wires were to be strung 14½ feet above the Boardwalk in order to give people enough clearance to comfortably walk underneath.

"It would do nothing to stop the gulls from coming in sideways from the beach," Guardian said.

Another idea - using replicas of predatory birds such as owls or hawks to scare the gulls away - has already failed.

"The Sands used to have a long walkway between the casino and the Boardwalk, and they put fiberglass owls on it to keep the seagulls away," Guardian said. "The seagulls just sat on top of the owls. They're not as dumb as we think."