Rules and Regulations

Osprey Rules

The operation of unmanned aircraft/drones on national wildlife refuges is prohibited. Drone users cannot 1) fly drones at “altitudes resulting in harassment of wildlife” or take-off or land drones within refuge boundaries under 50 C.F.R. § 27.34; 2) use drones to harass wildlife under 50 C.F.R. § 27.51; or 3) operate, launch from, or land drones on refuge-administer lands for the purpose of taking commercial photography under 50 C.F.R. § 27.71, without a permit in accordance with 43 C.F.R. Part 5.

The Wildlife Drive and trails are open from sunrise to sunset with an entrance pass or fee. Federal Passes are available at the Fee Booth and Tarpon Bay Explorers.

The Refuge is open for nature photography, wildlife observation, fishing, environmental education and interpretation. To protect the natural resources of the Refuge and to provide all visitors with a safe and enjoyable wildlife experience, please observe all Refuge signs and regulations in handouts and brochures.

Permitted Activities

  • Driving, biking and walking on the Wildlife Drive in accordance with state law. The speed limit is 15 mph on this one-way road for all modes of transportation for your safety. Seat belts and safety helmets (for children) must be worn. 
  • Paddling (kayak/canoe) from the right side of the Drive only.  Paddling from the left side is prohibited. There are 2 designated launch sites for your ease.
  • Hiking on designated trails only.
  • Fishing or crabbing from Wildlife Drive
  • Nature photography, wildlife observation, and nature study.
  • Dogs under control and on a 6-ft leash. All dog feces must be collected and disposed of properly.
  • While boating obey No-Motor and Pole/Troll Zones in Refuge. Motors must be up out of water in No-Motor Zones
  • Keep 100 ft. distance from nesting birds.

Prohibited Activities

ALL federal, state, and local laws and regulations are applicable on Refuge lands and waters, including the following Refuge-specific regulations:

Sport Fishing. We allow fishing and crabbing on designated areas of the Refuge in accordance with State regulations subject to the following conditions: 

  1. We prohibit fishing and crabbing in all waters of the Bailey Tract except for Smith Pond and Airplane Canal.
  2. We allow fishing and crabbing in all other Refuge waters except in areas designated as “closed to public entry”.
  3. We prohibit the taking of horseshoe crabs, stone crabs, and spider crabs.
  4. We allow the take of blue crab with the use of dip nets only.
  5. The daily limit of blue crab is 20 per person (including no more than 10 females).
  6. We prohibit kite surfing, kite boarding, wind surfing, sail boarding, and any similar non wildlife-oriented activities.
  7. We allow vessels propelled only by polling, paddling, or floating in the post “No-Motor Zone” of the "Ding" Darling Wilderness Area. All motors, including electric motors, must be in a nonuse position (out of the water) when in the “No-Motor Zone.”
  8. We prohibit camping on all Refuge lands and overnight mooring of vessels on all Refuge waters.
  9. We allow anglers to launch canoes and kayaks anywhere on the north side of Wildlife Drive. We prohibit launching motorized vessels over 14 feet (4.2 m) in length from Wildlife Drive. We allow launching of motorized vessels only 14 feet (4.2 m) or less in length from designated launch site #2.
  10. We allow public access to Wildlife Drive, except on Fridays, when we close Wildlife Drive to all public access. See hours posted at the front gate, on the refuge Web site, or call 239-472-1100.
  11. All visitors (e.g., anglers and photographers) must exit refuge lands and waters no later than 12 hour after legal sunset.
  12. We allow fishing and crabbing from the bank on both sides of Wildlife Drive, but we prohibit all public entry into the impoundments on the left side.
  13. We prohibit commercial fishing and crabbing (see § 27.21 of this chapter).
  14. We prohibit the possession or use of seines or trot lines.
  15. We prohibit the use of cast nets from Wildlife Drive or any structure affixed to shore.
  16. All fish must remain in whole condition.
  17. We prohibit the use of bows and spears from Wildlife Drive or any structure affixed to shore.
  18. We prohibit airboats, Hovercraft, and personal watercraft (Go Devils, Jet Skis, jet boats, and Wave Runners).
  19. Vessels must not exceed slow speed/minimum wake in refuge waters.
  20. We prohibit public entry on all islands (including rookery islands) except for designated trails.