Changes to shark-fishing rules to take effect July 1 have the Venice City Council revisiting whether it’s appropriate from the city’s pier.
Renovation of the structure, which was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017, began Monday. Access is limited now, with the entire pier to be closed soon. Work will take about 90 days.
“I can’t see opening the pier without having proper regulations in place,” Mayor John Holic said.
The exact language of the new rules the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved in February hasn’t been released yet, but the basics are known.
• a mandatory, no-cost, annual shore-based shark fishing permit for all shore-based shark anglers age 16 and older. A pier is treated as an extension of the land.
• prohibiting chumming when fishing for any species from the beach.
• requiring the immediate release of a prohibited shark species when fishing from the shore. There are 14 species permitted to be caught but 27 that are prohibited.
• requiring that prohibited shark species remain in the water when caught from shore or from a vessel. Because catch-and-release is difficult from a raised structure, the Commission recommends that it not be allowed from a pier.
The Council discussed shark fishing from the pier in late 2017 after reports about chumming attracting sharks to an area where people were swimming or kayaking.
City Attorney Kelly Fernandez told the Council that it has the authority “for reasons of protecting the public health, safety, or welfare” to impose restrictions on saltwater fishing from city property.
Naples, Deerfield Beach, St. Augustine Beach, Flagler Beach and Lake Worth all prohibit intentionally fishing for sharks from their pier, she said.
The Council accepted the advice of an informal group of anglers not to impose a ban. But there’s still concern about mixing sharks and people in or on the water around the pier, and some Council members sounded as though they might be willing to consider one.
“I think we’re an accident ready to happen,” Council Member Bob Daniels said.
Mayor John Holic said there’s another concern about chumming unrelated to how sharks react to it.
It’s his understanding, he said, that decaying mammalian tissue and blood can contain enteroccocus bacteria, outbreaks of which periodically lead to “No Swim” warnings being posted at the city’s beaches.
Anglers complain that the city’s stormwater outfalls carry pollutants into the Gulf, he said, though testing shows they don’t.
“I’m going to turn it around and say it’s the fishermen who are causing it,” he said. “Let them prove me wrong.”
The Council agreed to invite an FWC representative to do a presentation on the new rules. Fernandez will also take a look at them, as well as a statement by Rob Merlino, a member of the advisory group.
Speaking during audience participation, Merlino said he’s opposed to any ban on shark fishing from the pier.
“The Florida Constitution guarantees my right to fish in any public place,” he said.
According to Ballotpedia.com, Florida isn’t one of the 22 states with a constitutional amendment protecting the right to fish.