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“Catching Great Whites Are Illegal”: An Attack Changes Policies

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

One sign of many warning about shark fishing on Manhattan Beach

One sign of many warning about shark fishing on Manhattan Beach

Anglers Beware!

If you’re an angler heading to Manhattan Beach Pier in Southern California, there are a few rules you must follow:

  • Don’t use overcasting poles;
  • No multiple poles/fishing lines;
  • Don’t clean or gut your fish there;
  • Limit your hook size;
  • No chumming; and most importantly
  • Don’t hook a great white shark.

If you forget these rules, don’t worry; there are signs a plenty posted. Halfway on the pier, one sign details at least three of those rules. It also says in big black and red words (both English and Spanish): “CATCHING GREAT WHITE SHARKS IS ILLEGAL.”

There are other signs posted throughout the length of the pier. In addition, some of these signs warn anglers from catching certain fishes that may have high levels of mercury or other contaminants. Some of these signs have been there for decades. However, this particular sign and a few others pertaining to the shark ban are new. And, they have a terrifying -- and angry -- story behind them.

The ban against hunting great white sharks off the California coast has been in the books since 1994; however, it took a single incident to reveal that the city had a problem and needed to adhere to this statute.

A Local Attraction

Great whites roaming several yards from the shore is not unusual. What is rare -- almost nonexistent -- are shark attacks. The waters off this South Bay city (as the locals call the area in the southern half of the Santa Monica Bay), are ideal for a shark nursery.

This includes waters from the pier north to a local surf spot called El Porto. Juvenile sharks ranging from five to 10 feet in length learn their hunting skills by feasting on fish, rays and small sharks.

In fact, the presence of the sharks has become a local attraction.

The adults rarely enter these shallow waters. Their choice of food, seals, are virtually non-existent along the overly crowded beaches. The juveniles are not a menace to the casual swimmers, surfers, paddle boarders and anglers that frequent the area. In fact, the presence of the sharks has become a local attraction.

There are many accounts of surfers and paddle boarders reporting (even following) the sharks swimming under their boards or catching the surf next to them.

The Pier and the Sharks

The pier itself has an attraction at the end of it that seems focused on these apex ocean predators. The pier is the home to the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium. This is a place where ocean biologists study and display aquatic animals indigenous to the region. This, of course, includes the shark species. In front of the aquarium is a sculpture of a great white shark, nicknamed Manny, which has been popular with visitors since its inception.

Its location is also a favorite place for anglers. It’s not uncommon to see them outlining the rounded end of the pier, which is mere feet from the aquarium. The employees and anglers coexist peacefully for the most part, but sometimes that peace can be disrupted.

Throughout the years, white sharks have been reported swimming near the pier. While fairly rare, anglers have hooked them This, however, is not to the pleasure of those working at the Roundhouse.

Manny the shark in front of the Aquarium.

Manny the shark in front of the Aquarium.

One example pertains to an incident in which a marine biologist cut the line of an angler in an attempt to save the shark. As several reports from local newspapers and national magazines pointed out, the angler was not happy.

Still, in most cases, anglers have cut their own lines when they realize what they have on the other end.

As mentioned, sharks are not usually on their menu. Unfortunately, some can’t help but to attempt to reel them up to a platform that is about 20 feet above the ocean surface.

A Harmonious Existence Altered

In many respects, there was a harmonious existence among the humans and sharks. However, over time as more sharks were spotted and more people hit the beach, the sharks began to become a curiosity. And, the humans became a nuisance.

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With the advent of portable water resistant cameras such as GoPro and personal drones, people came to film or take pictures of the young sharks.

No shark sightings, today. Although, the seaweed (looking like a shark)had one of the surfers  briefly worried.

No shark sightings, today. Although, the seaweed (looking like a shark)had one of the surfers briefly worried.

In many cases, paddle boarders went out to get a closer look -- and pictures -- of them.

Inevitably, something was going to happen. And it wasn’t long before it did.

A Shark Attack Changes Everything

July 5, 2014 was a typical summer day in the South Bay. The anglers lined the pier and the surfers were catching the waves before the throngs of beachgoers arrived.

On this day, a group of long-distance swimmers were traversing the 2.2 mile course between Hermosa Beach’s pier and Manhattan Beach’s. 50-year-old Paul Robles and his group, members of the Southern California Aquatics, were closing in on the finish line.

According to numerous reports, the fishermen inadvertently hooked (accounts vary, some state two fishermen were involved. Others claim it was just one) a juvenile great white. According to various sources including the Los Angeles Times, the shark was believed to be between 7 to 10 feet long. The two anglers and the shark struggled upwards for forty minutes. Witnesses claimed that the shark thrashed about until snapping the line.

In the midst of all this, Robles and another swimmer were more than 100 yards away from the pier. According to Robles, he saw the shark under him just moments before the attack. The agitated shark bit him on the arms and torso and immediately let him go. Witnesses were recorded gasping and screaming loudly when it happened. One of those screaming was Robles. Fortunately, the swimmer next to him was able to get him out of the bloodied water to shore.

Unfortunately, the swimmer made local history that day; he was the first reported shark attack in the area. Fortunately, while badly hurt, the wounds were not fatal. Still, the scars remain.

A City Reacts

The attack made international headlines. Newspapers such as England’s The Sun reported on the matter. Nearly every media service in Southern California reported it. Soon, footage of the attack made it to the Internet.

With all the exposure, it didn’t take long for fingers to be pointed. And, many of them were leveled at the fishermen. Later, they were found not to be liable for the attack, considering that they didn’t intend to catch the shark and were attempting to free it.

About this time, People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals , PETA, called for a permanent ban.

Still, the incident was a sobering reminder that shark and human interactions have potentially deadly consequences. It didn’t take long for Manhattan Beach City Council and the State of California to take action.

The first move was to impose a 60-day ban on fishing from the pier.The move was for the city officials and members of the State Coastal Commision to review and revise existing rules for fishing on the state owned pier. About this time, People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals , PETA, called for a permanent ban.

The temporary ban was not welcomed by all, even in government agencies. According to a LA Weekly article, Michael Sutton, the president of California’s “Fish and Game Commission “warned Manhattan Beach not to impose its fishing restrictions. According to Sutton, any “regulation of angling is the purview of state authorities.”

City Bans Fishing for Sharks

On August 12, 2014, Manhattan Beach city council voted unanimously to ban fishing for sharks. This decision led to several regulations such as:

  • Banning chumming;
  • Restrict the type of equipment used for fishing off the pier.
  • Restrict hook size and the use of multiple hooks on lines.

The vote also lifted the temporary ban on pier fishing.

Several Years Later

As a result, the signs were posted throughout the pier. In addition, the law is now enforced and nearly a decade later, anglers still fish, but not with big hooks or chum. Many catch the small fishes and incidents of sharks have been close to nil.

Even Robles has moved on and has been an advocate for understanding and protecting the sharks. Still, there are sightings (especially at nearby El Porto Beach). Additionally, paddle boarders, surfers and swimmers will populate the same waters as the sharks.

The sharks are protected. Even the shark statue in front of the aquarium has been fenced in (evidently, people used to climb onto it to get selfies, but that’s another story).

And, of course, the signs are there, always reminding residents and visitors of that day in July of 2014.

Manhattan Beach Pier on a late summer day.

Manhattan Beach Pier on a late summer day.

Work Cited

© 2022 Dean Traylor

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