INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Faced with concerns from the business community on the barrier island, the Board of County Commissioners has decided to give its stance on onshore shark fishing at county beaches another look.
Commissioners, in a split vote of 3-2, directed County Attorney Alan Polackwich to review an ordinance already in place in Volusia County and draft something similar for Indian River County – with one main difference.
Volusia County’s ordinance prohibits shark fishing on the shore and within 600 feet of the shore. Indian River County’s commissioners don’t support outright banning of shark fishing – just the chumming and baiting of the water.
Instead, commissioners want Polackwich’s draft ordinance to provide some law enforcement teeth – allowing for the Sheriff’s Office or lifeguards to ask those who are fishing for sharks near swimmers and sunbathers to move farther down the beach.
Commissioner Gary Wheeler, who originally opposed any county rules restricting shark fishing, changed his mind after hearing that a proposed ordinance that gives law enforcement the ability to evaluate the potential for danger could be crafted.
“I think that’s reasonable,” Wheeler said of the compromise.
The commission’s direction wasn’t exactly what Oceanside Business Association President Al Benkert had in mind when he went before the Board of County Commissioners earlier this week.
He had implored the commissioners to ban shark fishing, telling them that no one in the business community on the island supports shark fishing or the publicity it would generate.
Benkert said that Vero Beach, and the surrounding beaches, are quickly gaining a reputation as being great places for onshore shark fishing, citing an organization that routinely holds shark fishing tournaments.
Commissioners Wesley Davis and Bob Solari opposed having the county’s attorney review and craft an ordinance, saying that the issue should be up to the state to decide and that such an ordinance would be overstepping.
“It steps on the liberties” of the majority of the population because of the few people who don’t use common sense, Solari said. He added that people should be responsible for their own safety and it is not up to the government to provide a protective envelope around each person.
Sheriff Deryl Loar was called up to weigh in on the matter during the board meeting Tuesday. The sheriff told commissioners that his concern would be manpower – having enough patrols to enforce the rule.
Benkert told commissioners that the biggest problem has been the lack of enforceability – that residents or beachgoers call the Sheriff’s Office to report the shark fishing and are told there’s nothing deputies can do because there’s no law to prohibit it.
As for the manpower, with the proposed ordinance, law enforcement officers – when called – could indeed ask shark fishermen to move farther down the beach.
Lifeguards, too, could be granted that authority under the proposed ordinance.
County Attorney Alan Polackwich is expected to report back to the Board of County Commissioners later this month with his drafted ordinance.
The ordinance is expected to require at least one public reading and hearing before commissioners can either approve or oppose the proposed law.