Onshore shark fishermen to ‘move along’ when officers, lifeguards ask

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — People fishing for sharks on the shore in Indian River County could have to move along if lifeguards or law enforcement officers order them to do so once a new ordinance goes into effect.

The Board of County Commissioners is expected to formally approve the new rule at a meeting in mid-July, which would impose a maximum $500 fine or six months county jail time for anyone who refuses to move farther down the beach. “It’s one step at a time,” said Bob Cooney, vice president of the board of directors at the Carlton condominiums complex, after the commission’s 3-2 vote.

“I think that’s a very smart idea,” said Susan Hunt, tourism director of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, after the commission meeting. No one from the Chamber attended or participated in the commission’s discussion about onshore shark fishing.

“Fishing tourism is very important in Indian River County,” Hunt added, “but so is the safety of the tourists and residents.”

The ordinance granting law enforcement and lifeguards the authority to ask people who are fishing for sharks was a compromise between an all-out ban on shark fishing in the county and not making any changes to current policies.

Already, the county has a prohibition for any type of fishing along the county’s guarded beaches.

“That is totally appropriate,” Commissioner Wes Davis said of having such a prohibition on guarded beaches, noting that beachgoers would expect a certain level of safety there that they would not have at unguarded beaches. “That, to me, is enough.”

Both Davis and Commissioner Bob Solari opposed the new ordinance.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler proposed the compromise, telling his fellow board members that it would be the only way he would support an ordinance pertaining to onshore shark fishing. An avid water sportsman, Wheeler has told the board on several occasions his personal experiences SCUBA diving and spear fishing without incident.

His motion garnered two supportive votes from Board Chair Peter O’Bryan and Commissioner Joe Flescher, who had originally asked for a full ban of onshore shark fishing.

County Attorney Alan Polackwich said after the meeting that he plans to present the requested ordinance at a commission meeting in July. He said he expects that to happen at the July 13 meeting, though he might be able to get it written in time for the July 6 meeting.

“We’re not going to go away,” Al Benkert, president of the Oceanside Business Association, told commissioners when it became apparent they were not going to support a full ban on shark fishing.

“It’s not good for business,” Benkert also said. “It’s not good for people.”

Flescher first brought the issue of onshore shark fishing to his fellow board members in April, after residents on the beach showed him photos of people bringing sharks up on the shore, posing with them for photos and then releasing them back into the ocean – all within a few yards of swimmers and sunbathers.

“It’s not what I initially intended,” Flescher said of the compromise ordinance, but added that he believes it might have the same effect – discouraging onshore shark fishing tournaments from marketing Indian River County as the place to go to catch a shark.

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