Originally created 08/12/01

Bites cause town to study outlawing shark fishing



TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. - Swimmers might not always know what lurks off Tybee Beach, and the island would rather keep it that way.

But that's hard when a tattooed guy named Raven routinely catches big sharks on Tybee Pier as hundreds of beach-goers swim nearby.

A photo of one of the sharks - a 7-footer - was published in the community, just days after a bull shark ripped a young boy's arm off in Florida.

The timing was too much for Mayor Walter Parker. An attack might ruin tourism during the heart of the summer.

Mr. Parker wrote an ordinance that would ban shark fishing from public docks, beaches and piers in the city. Last week, the City Council unanimously approved the first reading of that ordinance. A second vote is required for it to become law.

But some call the action misguided. Raven said his fishing doesn't lure sharks to shore; the sharks already are there.

"They're all over, and not because of me," said Raven, who claims Cherokee heritage and goes by that name alone. "It's not the fact that people don't know there are so many in the water; they just don't want to know."

Raven said he has caught sharks up to 12 feet long while fishing in the surf on Tybee Beach. He sets his bait about 100 yards offshore in a small kayak, then fishes from land.

Shark attacks are extremely rare off Tybee, though almost a dozen shark varieties call the waters home.

Some say officials are just getting caught up in the hysteria after the attack in Pensacola, where the 8-year-old's severed arm was fished out of the shark's mouth after his uncle wrestled it to shore.

"These (council members) have seen Jaws one too many times," said Missy Weimer, who often fishes with Raven. "All that we're doing is taking one more shark out of the water that might bite a human."

Even the Tybee city attorney said the ban might be unenforceable.

Shark fishermen use normal rods and reels, though they are often bigger than normal. Chum is often used as bait, though not always. The hooks are bigger than ones you'd normally use on shore, but that's a tough judgment call.

"If somebody is bass fishing and catches a shark, I don't think there is anything you can do about that," said City Attorney Edward "Bubba" Hughes.

"People often catch sharks accidentally. It would have to be based on the evidence."

Mr. Hughes said he will review that matter, as well as questions over whether the city even has the authority to pass fishing laws.

Fishing laws

There are two groups of sharks covered by regulations. The small shark composite includes the Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead and spiny dogfish. They must be a minimum of 30 inches in length, and the daily limit is two per angler. All other sharks must be a minimum of 48 inches in length, with only one allowed over 89 inches.

The Tybee City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would ban shark fishing from any of the island's public beaches, docks or piers. Fines would not exceed $300, six months in jail or 60 days of community service. Councilors must still approve a second reading of the proposal, expected next month.



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