Christopher Tanis, owner of Black Dog Bait and Tackle on Ocean Avenue in Melbourne Beach, says most of his customers fish south of town toward Sebastian Inlet. He added the practice of beach chumming general is ineffective. / MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. â?? Mayor Jim Simmons has encountered kayak-paddling fishermen off the end of Avenue B who attract sharks by dumping "buckets of blood and guts and grouper heads" into the waves - a mere 30 feet from his surfboard.
And while surfing in March, Simmons was startled by a group of out-of-town spring-break surfcasters near Avenue B. They had chartered a shark fishing guide for the week. And using a kayak, they dropped hooks baited with dead mullet next to Simmons and his floating friends.
"I see nine or 10 rods in an area 150 feet wide. And right next to them, there were four mothers with their kids. And they're all swimming in there," Simmons said.
"I'm like, 'Come on! These people are swimming right where you're shark fishing. Can't you move down the beach?' And they were like, 'We have our rights. We don't have to move.' And that's true, unfortunately," he said.
Simmons and the Melbourne Beach Town Commission hope to change that. Last week, commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution urging state officials to ban chumming -- the dumping of bloody bait -- and shark fishing within 300 yards of the beach, within town limits.
Town commissioners argue that "bloodbaiting" endangers public safety by exacerbating shark-feeding activity. But there's a hitch: Saltwater fishing and chumming are regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - not Florida municipalities.
So Melbourne Beach police have no authority to restrict shark fishermen, Town Attorney Paul Gougelman said.
Instead, Simmons plans to lobby during the FWC's Sept. 11 meeting in Kissimmee, Fla. Tuesday, Simmons sent an email to Brevard County mayors asking for support and raising these shoreline suggestions:
-- Establish designated shark-fishing areas, with signs warning swimmers and surfers of potential risk
-- Ask FWC to let cities and towns regulate shark fishing (an improbable proposal, Simmons acknowledges)
-- Outlaw chumming from shore
"I don't want to just sound like a crackpot who doesn't know there are sharks in the ocean. I've spent my whole life in that ocean," said Simmons.
"I don't want to restrict fishing. I just want people to use their common sense. You don't come to a recreational beach and chum and try to attract sharks there. It's just stupid. There's miles of beach here that don't have that kind of activity. Why do you want to come here?" Simmons asked.
Five shark-vs.-human attacks have been reported this year across Brevard County. Cocoa Beach Mayor Dave Netterstrom said he forwarded Simmons' email to his fellow city commissioners.
"I'm still digesting this, and (I'm) not sure I have an opinion yet. But as a beach community, common sense seems to tell us that we should either try to attract people or sharks. But not both - at least not to the same beach," Netterstrom said Wednesday.
In 2011, the FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management collected opinions on chumming and shark fishing during workshops in Cocoa, Destin, Tallahassee, St. Augustine, Sarasota, Dania and Key West. No restrictions were adopted.
"We do not currently have any plans to study or enact a chumming ban. Results from public workshops prior to the most recent shark-related decision made by the commission in 2011 - which included a decision to not prohibit chumming - indicated that shark fishermen rarely chum for sharks from shore because it is not effective," said Amanda Nalley, FWC spokeswoman.
"Chum gets swept away by currents moving along the shore. People do chum for bait from piers, and a ban on chum would affect those anglers," Nalley said.
Black Dog Bait & Tackle in Melbourne Beach caters to shark fishermen. Co-owner Christopher Tanis said he understands Simmons' view, but he does not support bans on shark fishing or chumming.
"I think the mayor has the concern of the people, which is his job. I think that the approach is probably wrong. I don't think fishing from shore for sharks brings sharks to the area. The bait fish migrate, and the sharks follow them, just like the Spanish mackerel and the tarpon," Tanis said.
Most Black Dog Bait & Tackle customers fish south of town toward Sebastian Inlet, Tanis said.
Tanis added that he cannot understand why anyone would chum off the beach, since pounding waves would sweep the bait away. He criticized shark fishermen who cast on crowded beaches.
"No. 1, don't fish here on the end of Ocean Avenue at the park. It doesn't make any sense. If I was a fish, would I be hanging out with a bunch of people?" Tanis asked.
Town commissioners previously considered a chumming ban in December 2012, but the proposal was dropped. Then-Vice Mayor Rocco Maglio raised that idea per request of the father of a boy who was bitten at Ocean Park.
Palm Bay shark fisherman Tony Alaburda, 20, who fishes between Melbourne Beach and Sebastian Inlet, had collected 176 petition signatures protesting the proposed ban as of Wednesday night. He argues there is no correlation between shark fishing and shark attacks.
"Out of the eight years we have fished for shark at Avenue B, no one has been bitten there. Supporters of the ban try to smear our image, saying that we yell and boss the swimmers and surfers around. In reality, it has been nothing but the opposite," Alaburda said.
"I have had plenty of experiences of this. We will be fishing with no one around us, then surfers and swimmers just arriving will try to order us to move all our gear somewhere else, using inappropriate language -- and sometimes even try to incite a physical altercation," he said.
Avenue B resident Scott Parker surfs with Simmons. During the Aug. 20 Town Commission meeting, he said the problem is "not somebody standing there with a pole that accidentally catches a shark." Rather, he said the problem is fishermen using boats to dump blood into the surf.
"They're chumming the water right where your family is on Saturday and Sunday, your grandchildren and so forth," Parker told commissioners.
"It's unacceptable. It's a public hazard. It's ridiculous," Parker said.
Read the original story: Shark-fishing debate hooks Florida town leaders