Commissioner Corner: Shark Fishing Debate

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By: County Commissoner Robert Weinroth Special to the Boca Newspaper

I don’t imagine there would be much debate over the idea that sharks and swimmers don’t mix well. So it was somewhat surprising to hear some members of our community object to a proposal being discussed by the Board of County Commissioners to prohibit shore-based shark fishing in areas where people are swimming.

Our world famous coastal shoreline is enjoyed by thousands of people every day and serves as a major economic engine for a local multi-million dollar tourism industry. Against that backdrop, chumming for sharks or shark fishing near our beachgoers is not acceptable.

Florida saw 30 unprovoked shark attacks in 2017, according to a report by the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida. Further research provided that unprovoked attacks usually occur in August and September and most predators were the bull, blacktip and spinner species of sharks.

While there were no reported killings by these predators in 2016 and 2017, in Florida or the rest of the US, when a swimmer is bitten it becomes a frightening issues for those in the water and on the beach. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that people feel safe when they’re enjoying our beautiful beaches.

In addition to bathers, shore-based shark fishing is hazardous to the health and safety of the sea turtles coming ashore to nest.

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has taken a first step in protecting swimmers. Responding to the residents’ concerns, FFWCC staff conducted a series of public workshops around the state and drafted a series of proposed rules intended to address some of the public safety concerns.

Commission staff concluded that shore-based shark fishing has resulted in increased public interest in shark conservation combined with growing human use of coastal areas which has increasing public concerns about shark mortality and disagreements about its compatibility with other shore-based recreational activities.

Commission staff recommended establishing a mandatory no-cost, annual shore-based shark fishing permit (with an educational prerequisite) as well as a prohibition of chumming from beaches. This would include fishing from shore, or any structure attached to shore e.g., bridges, piers, docks, and jetties).

The fact is shore-based shark fishing is often done at night, generally during the summer which coincides with the peak of sea turtle nesting season.

Activity on the beach can also prevent female turtles from coming ashore to lay their eggs or disrupt the process and cause false crawls (when turtles come ashore but returns without nesting causing a huge energy drain).

Most turtle nests hatch during the summer with the hatchlings traversing the beach to swim out to find a patch of sargassum, which will serve as the hatchlings’ home as they begin to grow and mature.  This is a perilous time for hatchlings, which are conveniently bite-sized.

Chumming the water tends to attract all species of fish (not just sharks) making it likely the hatchlings will be consumed before they can swim out to safety.

Clearly, there are competing interests to be considered as we focus on the shore-based shark fishing but it is also clear swimmer safety must be given the greatest priority to ensure our beaches continue to be welcoming for families and a magnet for tourism.

It is against that backdrop that the Board of County Commissioners will begin to carefully wade into this issue.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy new year!