Esther Kang

Manhattan Beach to lift temporary fishing ban at pier early, prohibit snag fishing, heavy fishing lines

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A white shark off the Manhattan Beach Pier last year. Photo courtesy of Eric Martin

A white shark off the Manhattan Beach Pier last year. Photo courtesy of Eric Martin

An ordinance prohibiting the use of steel, metal or braided leader lines, large hooks and snag lines on the Manhattan Beach pier was unanimously approved by the Manhattan Beach City Council Tuesday night.

Only 40-pound or lighter monofilament lines will be allowed, under the ordinance, which also expressly prohibits chumming, or using fish blood and parts to lure larger prey. Anglers will also be prohibited from gutting fish on the pier. The sink at the end of the pier, which discharges into the ocean, will be removed.

The Council discussed limiting fishing to the end of the pier, but did not include that provision in the ordinance because it would require California Coastal Commission approval. The Manhattan Beach pier is owned by the State Department of Parks and Recreation and managed by the city.

The new restrictions came in response to the July 5 collision between a great white shark and Lomita-based swimmer Steve Robles about 300 yards off shore and 200 yards south of Manhattan Beach pier. Robles suffered numerous gashes and needed to be brought ashore on a passing stand-up paddler’s board. According to witnesses, the shark had been hooked by a fisherman on the pier, and had been on the line for about 45 minutes when the attack occurred.

The following week, the City Council announced a 60-day emergency ban on pier fishing. On Tuesday, at the urging of City Manager Mark Danaj, the Council voted to lift the ban two weeks from the meeting rather than immediately. This will allow time to post signage and inform the community of the the new rules, he said.

Shark attack victim Steve Robles urges the Council to prohibit fishing from the pier.

Shark attack victim Steve Robles urges the Council to prohibit fishing from the pier Tuesday night

In a letter sent to the Council on Monday, the State Fish and Game Commission challenged the city’s pretext for the emergency ban. The letter stated that no state fishing laws or regulations were violated during the July 5 incident.

“At this juncture, the justification for banning fishing or implementing gear restrictions remains unclear,” wrote Fish and Wildlife Commission President Michael Sutton, “and the actions taken and being contemplated appear beyond the authority of the Council.”

The letter also noted that only Fish and Wildlife has the authority to regulate fishing activity on state piers.

The California Coastal Commission expressed similar concerns in its July 31 letter to the council. The letter argued that the 60-day fishing ban was unlawful because the pier falls under the state jurisdiction. The commission also argued that the emergency ban was illegal because the city did not demonstrate that public property or life was in imminent danger, as required by law.

"If normal fishing keeps up, we will eventually have another accident waiting to happen," said Eric Martin, director of the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier. "It's a living aquarium going on right now under our pier."

“If normal fishing keeps up, we will eventually have another accident waiting to happen,” said Eric Martin, director of the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier. “It’s a living aquarium going on right now under our pier.”

On Tuesday, the Council defended the temporary fishing ban despite the legal challenges. Not only did the attack occur over a busy Fourth of July weekend, the moratorium was necessary to allow the city time to hear from the residents, beachgoers and anglers, Councilman Wayne Powell argued.

“The city is not regulating the manner in which fishing can occur,” Powell said. “We’re attempting to protect the public. It may have an incidental effect on fishing.”

More than a dozen people addressed the council about the issue. Several fishermen urged the Council to create a 100-yard “no entry” buffer zone around the pier for surfers and swimmers, as suggested by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in its letter to the council.

“Well that’s fine, but the shark that attacked me, the fishing line was four times the distance of the rest of the fishermen’s lines,” Robles told the Council. “As a swimmer, we know exactly where the fishing lines are congregated and swim quite away from it … in this particular incident, I was about 200 yards away from the pier when I got attacked. That’s crazy.”

Councilman Mark Burton noted that uses of the beach and the pier have changed since the pier was built in the early 1900s. Not only has Manhattan Beach become a breeding ground for great whites, the number of surfers, swimmers and paddlers have increased. The pier has evolved from a fishing pier to a largely recreational pier, Councilman Burton pointed out.

“We know better in this community,” Burton said. “We swim there. Our kids swim there.”

In a separate motion, the Council moved to allocate $10,000 to participate in Heal the Bay’s three-month, pilot ambassador program, which will educate anglers and pier-goers about sharks and collect data for recommendations on how to better coordinate pier usage.

The Council also directed staff to determine if the pier area may be designated a Marine Protected Area. Marine Protected Areas, such as those off of Palos Verdes and Monterey Bay, are designed to allow depleted fish stock to recover.

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