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AM pier neighbors: stop shark fishing

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Then-Rod & Reel Pier owner Frank Cavendish with a shark he caught in the early 1970s off the pier. Long-time Anna Maria fishers say anglers have been shark fishing from the piers since they were built. The Rod & Reel Pier was built in the early 1950s, while the city pier opened in 1911. Islander Photo: Courtesy Anna Maria Island Historical Society

Dave White caught this bull shark at the Rod & Reel Pier last week and wrestled it to shore for a photo before releasing it live.

Anna Maria resident Joan Dickinson said she’s concerned about sharks when she takes her daily swim into Tampa Bay waters off the city’s north end, just about 100 yards north of the Rod & Reel Pier.

Dickinson said she really became worried about the dangers from sharks when she saw a picture of an 800-pound bull shark caught at the Rod & Reel Pier in the June 1 edition of The Islander.

Shark fishing and the accompanying chum used by anglers to attract sharks to the Rod & Reel Pier and occasionally to the Anna Maria City Pier causes her to worry, and not just for herself.

Young children often play in the waters near her waterfront house, and parents have no idea sharks may be in the water, she said.

Chumming is the practice of dumping large pieces of cut fish and fish blood into the water.

While Dickinson said she’s never seen a shark near her home, she believes chumming is “an accident waiting to happen.”

She recently wrote a letter to the city asking what could be done to “discourage shark fishing from our piers. I don’t want sharks lured in by the bloody chum these fishermen use.”

Dickinson asked what the city’s liability would be in a shark attack, “knowing that this practice has been encouraged.”

Neighbors Greg and Ann Loomis and Freida Williams also sent e-mail letters to the city supporting Dickinson.

“We are so very surprised an issue of such obvious danger would necessitate a debate within our public forum,” wrote Greg Loomis, a retired medical doctor.

Loomis said the pier operators should have “neighborly good faith” and halt or discontinue shark fishing, while Dickinson suggested posting “No Shark Fishing” signs at the Rod & Reel Pier. Alternately, she asked the piers to discourage or prohibit chumming.

Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the Mote Marine Center for Shark Research, said chumming does not cause sharks to start a feeding frenzy or attack at random.

“There’s no evidence that chumming leads to shark attacks on people,” he said. “It just attracts them to a particular area, but sharks are already everywhere in Florida waters.”

However, Hueter said he recommends that Florida beach communities warn swimmers not to get in the water when large numbers of anglers are present.

“Sharks are attracted to bait, even if it’s not chum,” he said.

Most chumming is done at night and he would only be concerned about chumming from the Rod & Reel Pier if it were a popular swimming location.

Gary Morris, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said, “Shark fishing and chumming for sharks are not illegal.” Saltwater fishing, including shark fishing, is controlled by the state, not the municipalities, he added. A pier can’t control what’s caught and sharks will bite just about any bait.

“What if you went fishing for snook and caught a shark?” he asked.

John Fara, who has been fishing waters around Anna Maria since 1963, said he’s never heard of a shark attack near either pier. Shark fishing has been around since he moved to the Island, he said, and sharks have always been caught from the Rod & Reel Pier.

“Sharks live in saltwater. If you want to avoid them, don’t get in the water,” he said.

Fara noted that not all shark fishing is done with chum. In fact, many sharks are caught when fishing for something else.

Sharks are strange fish, said Carli Segelson of the FWC research institute in St. Petersburg. They often attack without any reason and Florida’s coastline abounds with sharks.

“If you go in the water, there’s probably a shark somewhere within a mile or two. Anyone entering the sea in Florida is in shark territory,” she said.

Regarding liability, Morris said the general rule is that swimmers assume a risk when they enter the water.

If unusually large numbers of sharks have been noted in a particular area near shore, the FWC and local authorities would post signs warning swimmers that sharks have been observed in the area, he said.

If a government were to be liable for any shark attack in the waters along its beaches, every city and county in Florida would seek to ban swimming from its shores, Morris indicated.

Hueter said shark fishing has been ongoing in Florida since the first people settled along coastal areas. And large sharks abound in Florida waters, he added.

Fara remembered the story of a record-setting hammerhead shark caught in 1971 by Frank Cavendish, who then owned the Rod & Reel Pier.

Cavendish caught the hammerhead shark from the pier in December 1971, according to a photo of the catch that hangs in the pier restaurant. The hammerhead was 17 feet long and weighed 1,386 pounds, according to a news account of the catch.

“At that time, a lot of people thought it was a record for a hammerhead shark,” Fara recalled.

As an experienced fisherman, Fara said hammerhead sharks come around the tip of Bean Point to feed off tarpon in the area, and they’ve been doing it for years.

He’s seen hammerhead sharks close to the AMI shore off the Gulf of Mexico, but never near the shore by the piers.

“If anyone is going to get bitten by a shark, it’s going to be along the beach when the tarpon are schooling,” Fara predicted.

Rod & Reel Pier manager Dave Cochran said shark fishing from the pier is not as common as some people think. “And they’re not throwing buckets of chum in the water,” he added.

Cochran said he did not want to offend neighbors of the pier, but shark fishing at the pier has been going on for a “long time” and it’s not illegal to catch a shark.

Dickinson said her intent is to discourage anglers from chumming or fishing for sharks at the Rod & Reel Pier.

But Fara said many sharks are caught by accident, even around the Rod & Reel Pier or from a boat in Anna Maria waters.

“You can’t tell the shark not to bite because it’s illegal,” he observed.

Selby said he would ask the Florida League of Cities’ legal department for an opinion on the city’s liability from shark fishing and chumming at any pier within the city limits. The FLC carries the city’s liability insurance.

SIDEBAR

Shark attack liability

In the only known case in Florida where a swimmer sued a municipality for a shark attack, the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in the 1975 case that the city of St. Petersburg was not liable for injuries to a swimmer bitten by a shark, according to the website nexis.com.

The court said the swimmer assumed a danger from marine life when he entered the water, and the city had “no duty to anticipate the presence of, or guard the injured swimmer, an invitee, against harm from sharks that the city did not harbor where the city had no knowledge of prior shark attacks in the area,” the website said.

Since 1896, there have been 14 deaths recorded in Florida from shark attacks, the website said.

An average of four shark attacks in Florida have been reported annually since record keeping of shark attacks began in 1896, the website said.

10 Responses to AM pier neighbors: stop shark fishing

  1. casey coleman says:

    If Mrs. Dickenson knew anything about her local ecosystem and had stopped to think before she went around bothering people with her irrational attention seeking hogwash, she would easily find that there are thousands of migratory tarpon in schools off of her beach. And the bull shark caught off the pier near her house has been following those tarpon since boca.not a 5 pound chum block joe shmoe bought from the local convenience store. If you’re scared of fish then why would you choose to live near a fishing pier?It’s ignorant small town bull crap like this that tears apart communities. thousands of people swim these beaches every day.If there were a problem with shark attacks you would hear about it. why would you take away a part of a town’s history and culture because of some stupid irrational thought?

  2. Jeff Porzelius says:

    While I didn’t necessarily agree with Mrs. Dickinsons ideas, I found it alarming that Mr. Coleman found it necessary to resort to a personal attack on her intelligence and character in the attempt to make his point. Certainly, Mr. Coleman, you might have been able to engage her in the arena of ideas rather than stooping to such destructive rhetoric. I find it interesting that while you attempt to throw her and her ideas under the bus, it is actually your acerbic and unrelenting vitriol that works to tear people and communities apart…..not her. Before accusing someone else of stupid or irrational thoughts, challenge yourself to look into the mirror of your own heart and mind next time!

  3. doyle drexel says:

    I am not sure how many residents of the Island would select Casey Colemen as their spokesperson and I am not sure I understand the local ecosystem as well as he does. However, to use the defense “if there were a problem with shark attacks you would hear about it” is a little lacking in quality of response. I assume that because you have access to the internet and can apparently type, that you could do a little research of your own and cite some statistics about how chumming the water and hunting for sharks is safe near waters where people swim. Or I guess you could just call people stupid. Either way, I would hate for the community to be torn apart by losing the shark fishing culture.

    • Dean says:

      Does this mean that crab fishing will be banned as the hundreds of pots all contain chum which will attract those nasty fish .Sometimes I cannot beleive the ignorance of people.This is the gulf of Mexico it has one of the highest shark populations/densities in the world .The bay is also an area where they reproduce.Sharks have been coming here for millions of years ,just because somebody with money wants them to go away wont make any difference to them.This is their home swim at your own risk.

  4. David Anderson says:

    “Don’t swim where anglers are fishing.” Makes sense.

  5. Helen Sjuts says:

    I grow so tired of the constant disputes on the Island; be it political or otherwise. Logical thinking tells us that when you put a large number of people on a 1/2 mile wide Island there will always be conflict. Those that choose to move in and then DEMAND change are simply power seekers. Did you consider there were sharks in the waters when you were looking to purchase your property? I can assure you that there are no sharks in Arizona. Why can’t everyone just get along and stop trying to move in and change the culture?

  6. Maureen Dahms says:

    I think that Mrs. Dickinson’s concerns should be taken as legitimate. Fishing is a longtime sport and hobby here in Florida and so is swimming. Maybe it is time to really do some research and see what the dangers might be and if there is a reason to separate the swimmers from the anglers. How could it hurt to talk to ‘experts’ and find out? I swim in the waters off the Island, both Gulf and Bay, and if there are fishermen nearby, I personally move away. Just saying!

  7. shelby Harrell says:

    I’m sorry but this is just ridiculous. I am an angler and a swimmer in the gulf waters and I fish and swim at the rod and reel pier regularly. Most shark fisherman go out to the pier at night especially when they chum bait, which doesn’t happen at the pier as often as people think. We go there to fish for them because we know they are there. Angles don’t lure sharks there its a long known fact that they like to hang out under the pier, a few miles out in front of it and in between. I have to agree w a few of he others that im sick of ignorant rich people thinking they can buy a house on the island especially right next to the famous shark fishing pier and then complain because there are sharks in the water. Also, if your going to go as we as try and make shark fishing there illegal. That’s just plain I’m sorry but stupid to think you can move into this fancy house on the island and change the culture of the island just because you personally dont like it the way it is. Didn’t you research the area before you moved there?

  8. Jes says:

    I don’t care what you native fishermen say… I think Mrs. Dickenson is right in her thinking. She’s only trying to prevent human tragedy and there’s nothing wrong with that. The threat is real, things are changing. I can understand how many of you would be upset by people like Mrs. Dickenson, but you know there have been two, recent shark attacks near Anna Maria, both involved fishermen thus both involved bait. Bait attracts fish, right? and sharks are often caught instead of fish? One fisherman was spear fishing near Anna Maria and got hurried to the Rod & Reel Pier by boat where he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital and almost died from blood loss! Another got bit in waist-high water right on Anna Maria! He was a tourist fisherman and had emptied his bait bucket into the water where a shark was ready and waiting nearby! I think it’s time you fisherman on the Rod & Reel Pier start thinking of people other than yourselves before swimmers start getting attacked next door to fishermen! All it takes these days is a small scrape on the ankle or a small cut on the foot and that little bit of blood from a swimmer could attract a shark and real human tragedy! Most tourists swimming with their toddlers and families don’t know about sharks being close to the shorelines of Anna Maria! Why wait till something bad happens?

  9. Brian says:

    Sharks live in Florida salt water and aligators live in Florida fresh water. Swimming pools are for swimming. I would not swim or leave my children unattended in Florida waters. Wading is different if you keep a close eye for large predators. It is nobodys fault but your own if you let your guard down.

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