Snorkelers, waders and swimmers were in the waters just north of the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria June 17. They were about 250 feet from the pier, where sharks are often caught at night. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
This group of anglers from Bradenton said they regularly fish at the Rod & Reel Pier during daylight hours and said they’ve never seen a shark caught at the pier. They have, however, heard stories about others who caught a shark there. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
The argument over whether chumming and shark fishing should be banned in Anna Maria continued last week, as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prepared for a public forum June 23 in Sarasota on potential changes to rules for chumming and shark fishing.
Anglers and conservationists remain divided on whether chumming attracts sharks and causes more shark attacks, and whether the FWC should ban shark fishing in Florida waters.
Don Anthony, communications director of the Fort Lauderdale-based Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said his organization believes all chumming — and shark fishing — should be illegal, saying such laws would be better for humans and for sharks.
“Putting all that blood in the water creates a danger to swimmers, surfers, small children and anybody in the water,” he said. And chumming is a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
People start screaming about all the sharks in the water attracted to the chum and anglers go out to the area and start to catch as many sharks as possible to eliminate the alleged “danger,” he said.
In addition to a statewide ban on chumming, Anthony said the ARFF wants to halt the “hunting and killing of all sharks.”
Shark fishing and getting a photo of the angler and the shark has become something a way for anglers to display themselves as conquering heroes, he said.
Since the movie “Jaws” was released in 1975, sharks have become “demonized,” Anthony said.
“All these photos of a fisherman standing next to the big shark he caught depict him as a hero who has killed the demon shark.”
Anthony said ARFF members would attend the FWC’s June 23 public discussion in Sarasota on possible regulation changes.
An FWC press release said the forum discussion will be on whether hammerhead and tiger sharks should be on the protected species list and Anthony said that’s a start.
“If they only start with two sharks, that’s fine, but we will advocate all shark fishing should be banned,” he said.
But recreational shark fishing has been around Florida for the past 150-odd years, said Capt. Scott Moore, a veteran charter boat captain who has fished the waters of Anna Maria Island for nearly 50 years. A ban on chum to halt shark fishing would be a waste of time and effort because chumming is not needed to catch a shark, nor is chumming what the ARFF and others think it is.
“Nobody’s out at the Rod & Reel Pier throwing big buckets of blood and fish guts into the water,” Moore said.
“That’s what people see on those TV shows, so they just assume that’s what’s done here.
“It’s not,” he said.
Tossing large buckets of fish blood and chopped fish into the water is done for television to ensure there will be plenty of sharks for the cameras or tourists on the boat, Moore noted.
A lone angler will chum by slicing a small jack or using a few pieces of cut-up cobia and throwing that into the water. There’s not a massive flow of blood and guts, he said.
Chumming with large buckets of fish and blood also is just too expensive, according to Moore.
“You have to buy that stuff. Nobody’s out there doing that.”
Moore agreed with Anthony on one issue.
The movie “Jaws” put the fear of sharks into everyone’s head and many people believe sharks are just waiting to attack people once they set foot in the Gulf of Mexico.
In almost 50 years of fishing around the Island, he’s never heard of a shark attack near the Rod & Reel Pier.
He has, however, seen the annual migration of tarpon along the Island’s coast, and the fish are sought after as a food source by hammerheads and bull sharks. The Egmont Key channel is an excellent location for sharks to chase tarpon, Moore said.
“The tarpon come in close to shore along the Gulf and the hammerheads feed on them. There are always sharks in the waters around here. If you want to educate people, don’t swim in the Gulf of Mexico at night,” he said.
Indeed. About 30 years ago, a St. Petersburg man tried to swim from Bean Point to Egmont Key late one night. He was found dead the next day on the shore of Passage Key with a shark bite to his leg. The theory then was that he bled to death after being unsuccessful at applying a tourniquet.
Remember, said Moore, once you’re in the water, you’re in shark country. They can be found up the Manatee River as far as the saltwater reaches during high tide, even as far as the Fort Hamer Bridge, Moore said.
And the idea that an angler needs to chum to catch a shark is not true, he said. “The natural chum is just your bait in the water.”
Moore does advocate shark release, and suggested anglers get educated on the proper way to release a shark.
Dave White inadvertently started the shark controversy when a photograph of him with an 800-pound bull shark he had just caught from the Rod & Reel Pier was published in the June 1 Islander. White said he was amazed that people assumed he was chumming when he caught the shark, which he released alive immediately after the photo was taken.
“I’m surprised at the recent outrage,” White said, and at “the assumption that chum was used. Fishing for sharks is not a science, nor is it difficult. You merely put a piece of dead bait in the water.” It’s not “attracting the shark to the area” because the sharks are already there.
White also knows about the annual tarpon migration and the accompanying sharks.
In a letter to The Islander, White said that last year he saw a large hammerhead bite into a tarpon around 75 yards from the beach.
“The blood and debris was as graphic as any crime novel,” yet there was no massive attack of sharks, he said.
People who don’t fish or understand chum have been “watching too much TV,” White said.
White also advocates the release of sharks, as do many long-time Island anglers, including Chuck Phillips, who has fished Island waters for 43 years.
Phillips said killing sharks commercially or for sport should be stopped as shark populations worldwide are declining. He said “catch and release” should be practiced by anyone angling for shark.
After White’s shark catch photo appeared in The Islander, North Shore Drive resident Joan Dickinson and two of her neighbors e-mailed Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby asking him to explore limiting or banning shark chumming and/or fishing. They also questioned the city’s liability in the event of a shark attack.
Nick Atwood of ARFF then sent Selby an e-mail urging him to “consider” an ordinance banning chumming and shark fishing from city shores and piers.
Meanwhile, the FWC had already scheduled public forums on possible changes to chum and shark-fishing regulations.
The FWC’s local forum on those issues will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23, on the 10th floor of the Terrace Building, 101 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota.