Marine Resources Committee discusses pier fishing regulations

LOS ALAMITOS – A white shark that was tangled in a fishing line and attacked a swimmer near the Manhattan Beach Pier in July remained a hot topic with the California Fish and Game Commission as the agency’s Marine Resources Committee discussed the prospect of regulating pier fishing at its Nov. 5 meeting in Los Alamitos.

After the white shark incident, the city of Manhattan Beach closed down its pier and sought to regulate anglers who use the raised structure for recreational fishing. However, the Fish and Game Commission reminded Manhattan Beach only the state could regulate fishing activity on the pier.

Seeking to prevent a similar shark attack in its city and a regulation battle with the state, city officials in Hermosa Beach asked the Fish and Game Commission for assistance in devising a proactive policy in the name of public safety.

Hermosa Beach Fire Chief David Lantzer told the Marine Resources Committee at its Nov. 5 meeting he wanted to get in front of the problem and work with the Fish and Game Commission to devise a plan or regulation to give his department and the city the tools to best prevent a shark attack or to be able respond to such an event if it did occur.

“Our primary concern is the deliberate fishing of white shark. We’re trying to prevent a problem … [and] trying to limit the possibility [of an event] occurring,” Lantzer said, adding he understands the regulatory process would be time consuming.

Lantzer said he was being proactive based upon increasing populations of sharks and recreational ocean users.

Chris Lowe, a shark expert at California State University, Long Beach, corroborated Lantzer’s statement of a growing shark population. In response to a petition last year to list the white shark as endangered or threatened, Lowe noted there is evidence of a growing shark population off of California’s coast.

“I would argue that white sharks represent an excellent example of one of California’s greatest conservation success stories,” Lowe said. “There is published evidence indicating that the northeastern Pacific white shark population has been growing over the last 10 years based on increased recruitment of young sharks in southern California and Mexico and climbing sea otter mortality due to shark bites.”

Observing greater numbers of people recreating in the water, Lantzer believes it will only be a matter of time before what happened in Manhattan Beach repeats itself in Hermosa Beach.

Lantzer said being proactive in limiting shark attacks near piers would be similar to preparing for a major earthquake despite the fact one has not occurred in several years.

“If we wait too long, we could have another incident similar to what happened in Manhattan Beach. We’re trying to limit attracting sharks,” he explained.

While there has not been a discussion what a new regulation would look like, the state could consider limiting the use of chum or steel fishing wires used in the lines of shark fishers.

A staff member from the Fish and Game Commission acknowledged now is probably a good time to look at pier fishing regulation, as it has been a while since such a regulation was revisited.

Lobbyist George Osborn, who represents the California Sportfishing League and Peace Officers Association, urged the Fish and Game Commission to take a holistic approach in enacting new regulations.

“If you have different regulations … you can have a vast difference in regulations between neighboring piers from the Oregon coast to Mexico,” Osborn said, adding piecemeal legislation makes it confusing for recreational anglers to keep track of and wardens who have to enforce the laws.

Ultimately, multiple agencies oversee regulations on piers and at beaches. The state regulates fishing and access, Lantzer said. Specifically, Fish and Game regulates fishing while the California Coastal Commission regulates access. However, cities can ban or regulate certain activities on piers, such as skateboarding or smoking.

White sharks are protected under California law. Specifically, anglers are not allowed to take or be in possession of a white shark at any time.

Sarah Abrahmson Sikich, a scientist and policy director with Heal the Bay, advised local policymakers and civic leaders to create some sort of educational program to guide pier anglers of how to avoid catching any sort of shark and how to responsibly react in the event a shark is caught or hooked.

Sikich said closing a beach or pier for a prolonged period is not the best approach.

“Closing beaches for long periods of time due to shark sightings or closing piers to fishing will not likely reduce the risk, nor is it consistent with California’s laws or beach culture,” she said.

Fish and Game Commissioner Richard Rodgers, who also sits on the Marine Resources Committee, said the agency needs to approach this issue on a larger scale instead of specifically focusing on Hermosa Beach or Manhattan Beach.

“We all know what is lurking in the waters. What are the real problems,” Rodgers said.

Michael Sutton, president of the Fish and Game Commission, said there are many tools to address the public safety concerns raised by Lantzer. Involving the Fish and Game Commission would be just one tool, he said.

Both Sutton and Rodgers empathized with Lantzer’s request and commended Hermosa Beach for approaching the committee and commission before taking any official action.

Raphael Maldonado, an angler from Inglewood who regularly fishes in the South Bay with his family, disagreed with Manhattan Beach’s effort to restrict pier fishing in light of the July 5 shark attack.

“Only for one accident they want to close an area where thousands come to visit,” Maldonado said. “When I come fishing, it’s the only thing I’m comfortable doing. For me, it was pretty bad that they closed the area for fishing.”

Looking ahead, the commission will study any relevant information and try to make a determination whether the threat of shark attacks near piers and beaches is perceived or real. If the threat is determined to indeed be real, the commission would then look into potential policy changes.

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