Shark Fishing and Swimmers

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So there’s been some scuttlebutt on the island as of late regarding fishing, shark fishing and swimmers/snorkelers. Now, I’m not privy to the graphic details of conversations, but I am aware of the gist of them. I won’t go into all of that right here, but I will give my opinion on the entire situation and leave it at that.

Let me first say that I love fishing. I grew up fishing. I still fish now and then. I support our fishermen and encourage them to fish. I enjoy sharks – thoroughly, actually. As a child I was obsessed with them. I could tell you anything about any species. If I could have had one in my bathtub as a pet, I would have. Now as an adult, I still love sharks. I still have a respectable knowledge of them. I don’t fear them necessarily, but I do respect them and their habitat.

The backstory:

About two weeks ago, my friend and I decided to go diving for shells. Our first choice didn’t look like a good spot that morning, so we decided to meet at Blind Pass. We’d snorkel the Sanibel side, move across the channel and hit the Captiva side all the way up North. We didn’t find much luck on the Sanibel side, so we moved to the Captiva side.

Within 3 minutes of hitting the water at the Captiva jetty (my friend 5 feet behind me), I came face to face with a Blacktip shark – literally an arm’s length away as I stood in 4 feet of water (see the pic below of the location – X marks the spot, even though this is an older picture and the jetty doesn’t quite look like that now). He was small, maybe 3, 3 ½” feet, but he startled me. I startled him as he darted away quickly. After catching my breath (haha) we dove down and within a few feet from us was a very large ray head. It was a good foot and a half chunk. This was what our shark friend was nibbling on. Disturbing, I know.

How many of you reading this have stood in that exact spot?

I know, right?

As we continued to dive North, we came across quite a bit of bait/chum. Fileted fish, fish heads, chunks of meat, you name it….and the two of us were clearly getting more and more angry as we moved along. At one point (and keep in mind it’s about 8-8:30am now), a fisherman clearly fishing for shark hopped in his kayak and headed out, passing us by no more than a few feet. We continued to dive and collect shells and on our way back I didn’t notice a line in the water. When I came up for air, the fisherman whistled at me and gave me an aggressive gesture to move away from his line….and he was camped about 15 feet from the jetty….a jetty area that’s absolutely crawling with swimming tourists, locals and children throughout the Summer months – and the water isn’t always crystal clear since the Okeechobee overflows. Emphasis on the words “swimming” and “children”.

Now as I mentioned previously, I fully support our fishermen. I just don’t support them fishing where people swim. I don’t support tossing unused bait in the water after a long night of shark fishing and I don’t support day fishing for shark where people swim. It’s asinine. This situation below is an example. Now picture a bunch of children to the left and five more fishermen on the right.

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There is an understanding on certain beaches locally. At Lighthouse Beach, fishermen gather near the pier. They don’t fish along the Western beach where the swimmers gather (as you can see below – no fishermen).

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This goes for Bowman Beach as well. Why this respect is not extended at Blind Pass/Turner Beach is beyond me. Common sense tells me that if someone is in the water swimming, don’t cast a line in the water. But some fishermen still do. Ok, maybe a 3 foot blacktip shark isn’t going to hurt much. Now replace that with a hungry 6 foot bull shark.

Sanibel Island is known for one thing – Shelling. It is the Mecca of the shelling world. It is not however, the shark fishing capital of the world. Sharks in a way are like dogs. If you leave out food in a certain area, they will eventually learn to feed there. Turner Beach is becoming that area.

Some are calling for a buffer zone – 200 yards from the Turner Beach jetty extending North there should be absolutely no fishing. I agree with that view.

I have heard, “But we were here first! If you see our poles in the water, go swim somewhere else!”

Nope. Read up a couple of paragraphs. Sanibel is known for shelling and swimming. That’s what people come here to do. So they were here first. Not you. You wanna fish over the bridge into the pass? Go ahead. No one is swimming there.

One day someone’s going to get bitten at Turner Beach. Perhaps, someone’s child.

At that point everything will change…but then it will be too late.

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