by Keith Rushing
St. Johns Riverkeeper
Fishing is still the heartbeat of many an American community. In many cases, it’s their lifeline.
For a hard-luck, downtrodden community, fishing is the best hope for salvation.
If we can lure someone’s lunch money into our community, or feed someone a bite to eat in our community, our economy will be a lot stronger. It also spreads positive reinforcement throughout the community, which makes it a good investment for both the community and the fisherman.
Back in Florida’s Gulf Coast communities like Duval, Matanzas, St. Johns, Indian River, St. Marys, and Fernandina Beach, fishing tourism is part of daily life. That means hours spent fishing and relaxing and years spent fishing and fishingin pursuit of more hours of fun.
Some fishermen in the Florida Panhandle
in recent years have considered fishing one of the most viable economic sectors in the region. As we approach the official launch of Fishing Weekend, which runs from July 15 to July 17, we wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the fishermen and recreational anglers who contribute so much to our community.
But this weekend, instead of focusing on the abundance of fish that live in the mangroves and in the salt marshes, people are instead focused on shark fishing.
I’ve spent my career working to eliminate fishing conflicts with public beaches, so I’ve seen this problem firsthand. Fishing & beaches was a long-running conflict between environmental activists and some local fisherman, which I was able to work to resolve. But that issue has been resolved.
On another front, this week, the city of Fernandina Beach declared a state of emergency, which requires the city to issue a fishing zone because a great white shark has beached itself on a popular local beach. The shark was likely attracted by a large fish known as a school of mackerel that was caught in the nearby St. Johns River.
City commissioners have said they would like to see the sharks feed off a fish that is living in Matanzas Inlet before the sanctuary is reopened.
The city of Fernandina Beach is relying on a commercial fisherman and tourist guide to give them the information necessary to make that call. That’s not enough.
In most cases, a fisherman knows what he’s doing on the water.
A better use of money and resources would be to direct the money and the efforts toward researching and preventing shark attacks, and educating fishermen on what they need to do to help.
It’s unfortunate that this shark left the water that quickly and unnoticed. But I’m confident that if it was in a feeding frenzy, it would have been seen by local residents and that would have had local fishermen’s attention.
An official beach pass passes two-and-a-half miles of beach, so I hope the city puts a fence in front of the shark’s home. This would be a way to keep it from swimming in between towns.
I think an image could go up, with the words “Shark Tamer Whistle Sticks” written on it and then with a couple jumpy cartoon sharks running back and forth as they eat their cactus treats.
This image would be taken out of context and blown out to be quite the production, and would scare the life out of the shark. If nothing else, that small gimmick would help teach people to stay away from the Shark-keeper Whistle Stick while fishing, and it would make people worry about what to do if they see one of the crew members giving the sharks a whirl.
Some of you may be asking, “Why are you only concerned about keeping sharks safe, not the fish that lives in the waters with them?” That’s correct.
The Shark Tamer Whistle Stick is a citizen science project led by the Sarasota Museum of Natural History, which has been concerned with shark behavior in the area for years. The collection of information in the Whistle Stick was given by volunteers, and is actually kept safe at the aquarium. It contains a safe catch limit for the fish, as well as questions and answers about shark behavior, what sounds are most common among feeding sharks, when a shark should bite, when a feeding shark should be in the water, and many other ideas for safety gear.
We would love to pass out shark Tamer Whistle Sticks to everybody for free, but we can’t. There’s been too much