By BOB MUDGE
Venice Gondolier Senior Writer
VENICE — The Venice City Council wanted to hear from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about its new shark-fishing rules before considering whether to ban the activity from the Venice Fishing Pier.
It heard from the FWC on Tuesday and then unanimously directed City Attorney Kelly Fernandez to draft a ban.
Samantha Gentrup, of Hands Along The Water, spoke in favor of a ban, while local angler Rob Merlino was the only person speaking in opposition. But the representatives of the FWC pretty much told the City Council what they needed to know after a ban had been under discussion for about two years.
Mainly, it was about the city’s authority to impose such a ban in the first place.
Tom Graef, FWC’s southwest regional director, said the City Council can regulate fishing from city-owned property and city parks. The city owns the pier and it’s in a city park.
With its authority clear, the Council’s decision came down to whether the FWC’s new rules are compatible with allowing shark fishing to continue.
Most significantly, the rules now require that when a protected species of shark — there are more than two dozen — is hooked it be released immediately without taking it out of the water except to remove the hook.
With the pier stretching out into the Gulf of Mexico about 700 feet and standing 30 feet high, that would often mean walking all the way back to shore and removing the hook there.
That could be necessary just to determine whether it’s even a protected species in the first place, Mayor John Holic said. A responsible angler would treat every shark as protected until it’s identified, he said.
The consensus was that only a ban made sense.
Council Member Mitzie Fiedler said she couldn’t see how any sharks could be released from the pier without taking them out of the water, and no one disagreed with Graef’s comment that walking them back to the shoreline “would be a task.”
Public reaction is in favor of a ban too, according to Gentrup, who said she had about 2,300 signatures on a petition in support of one.
“There’s a very loud voice,” Council Member Chuck Newsom said. “One of the loudest I’ve heard since I’ve been on Council and I think we need to address it.”
One of Merlino’s objections was that the city doesn’t enforce a ban on swimming within 150 feet of the pier. It shouldn’t pass new rules if it doesn’t enforce existing ones, he said.
Fernandez’s draft ordinance will include a requirement that “no swimming” areas be designated around the pier and that signs be posted there and at Venice Beach saying swimming has priority over fishing.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” Council Member Jeanette Gates said. “But common sense doesn’t always prevail.”