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Shark fishing tournaments making waves with county commissioners

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Shark fishing on the county’s beaches has attracted the attention of one county commissioner who is now asking staff to review the county’s policies and rules.

“I don’t believe this is a safe practice,” said Commissioner Joe Flescher of fishermen attracting sharks toward the shore and then dragging the sea predator up onto the beach near sunbathers.


Flescher said the two most prevalent types of sharks swimming off the coast of Indian River County are bulls and tigers, the second and third most feared shark species behind the great white.

Fellow commissioners agreed that more information about the practice of shark fishing and the ramifications is needed before they proceed with changing or adding any rules.

Commissioners Gary Wheeler and Wesley Davis both said at a recent commission meeting that they would not support out-right banning of shark fishing from the shore.

“They’re after the bait, not the people,” Wheeler said of the sharks.

Flescher told commissioners that the shark fishermen canoe or kayak a bucket of chum out from the shore to attract the sharks to the area. He added that unsuspecting swimmers could be downstream of the bucket.

“I think it’s pretty crystal clear what’s taking place,” Flescher said. “We’re waiting for an accident to happen.”

Wheeler said he has SCUBA dived numerous times and spearfished and never had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of a shark – even while trailing a bloody bag filled with fish.

Commissioner Bob Solari said he has been hiking and out in nature and never been fearful of the wildlife.

“But I’ve never grabbed a panther by the tail,” he said.

He added that shoreline shark fishing near sunbathers and swimmers is the reason why government has to pass laws – people leave common sense and logic at home.

“This is one of the dumbest things on God’s green earth,” Solari said.

While Davis said he would not support banning the shoreline sport, he agreed that the public has a reasonable expectation of safety when they go to the beach.

“It’s the blood in the water that bothers me,” Davis said.

However, sharks are out in the ocean, not far from shore regardless of whether or not fishermen have chummed and baited the water, Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan said.

Doug Distl, the manager of the Carlton community along the beach, brought the issue to Flescher’s attention, asking him to ban shoreline shark fishing after he found fishermen from outside the area fishing for sharks as part of an Internet-based shark fishing tournament.

Distl told commissioners that they would not want the county to develop the reputation of the “shark fishing capital” of the southeast.

He said that his community has been proactive in warning residents when conditions are unsafe to swim – sending out emails when the fish are running near the shore, which attracts sharks.

“Let’s be proactive,” Distl urged commissioners.

After the meeting and commissioners agreed to get more information before changing or adding rules, Distl expressed disappointment that commissioners were delaying action.

One of the reasons for delay is to allow County Attorney Alan Polackwich to better determine who has jurisdiction over the shore and the waters.

He said a cursory review of state laws suggests the county has jurisdiction and could establish and enforce the rules.

However, Polackwich pointed out a state law that seems to reserve the right to the state to make laws pertaining to saltwater fishing.

Polackwich said the county might be able to establish an overriding rule based on public safety concerns.

“It’s an attraction of sharks issue” not fishing, the attorney said. However, he told commissioners that he could not give a 100 percent guarantee that any county ordinance would withstand a legal challenge from the state.

“Heading down this path is a challenge,” he said.

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