Manhattan Beach takes steps to declare emergency after shark attack

The city lacks authority to permanently ban fishing from the pier, but other steps are under consideration

The Manhattan Beach City Council late Tuesday took steps toward declaring a state of emergency and public nuisance along the shore, a move that would give officials more time to consider regulations on fishing from the city's pier.

More than 20 people spoke during the public comment period of the council meeting, echoing ongoing debate ignited when a long-distance swimmer was bitten by a juvenile great white shark July 5. It's believed the shark was thrashing to free itself from a fisherman's line when it bit Steven Robles, 50, in the side not far from the pier.

Officials acknowledged that the city does not have the authority to unilaterally impose a permanent fishing ban, citing a provision in the state Constitution that protects fishing. Council members said such a ban would involve multiple agencies and require state-level action.

The city had already banned fishing on the pier for 60 days beginning July 7. Once set, the state of emergency declaration would give city officials up to 60 days to discuss and eventually present proposed regulations to the council. Potential local regulations discussed Tuesday included banning metal or braided lines as well as prohibiting fish cleaning and chumming from the pier.

Robles, a real estate broker from Lomita, also addressed the council. He said he blames the fisherman who had hooked the shark and kept it on the line for 40 minutes before the attack, and probably agitating it. He called the debate surrounding fishing at the pier complicated, but added: "Reckless behavior has to be penalized."

He was apparently referring to video of the incident that shows some people on the pier seemingly making light of swimmers' close encounters with the shark. Robles' apparent screams can be heard on the recording, at which point onlookers on the pier yelled warnings to surfers and swimmers to get out of the water.

"This gentleman thought it was funny while I was being attacked," Robles said. "I think he's getting off very easy."

State wildlife officials have said they would not prosecute Jason Hagemann, one of the fishermen who hooked the shark, but council members said they would look into what they might be able to do within the city's jurisdiction to hold him legally responsible. They did not refer to Hagemann by name.

"I'm not a lawyer, but common sense tells me there was culpability," said Councilman Wayne Powell, adding that he would like to see a grand jury take on the matter.

Enthusiasts say many public piers were built for fishing. They say the piers offer public access to those who see fishing as an inexpensive hobby or as a way to feed their families. Others question the wisdom of allowing fishermen, some of whom hunt for sharks, to do so close to areas used by surfers and swimmers.

Robles continues to recover from his injuries and had more stitches removed from his abdomen Monday. He said he has no health insurance and is facing large medical bills.

Twitter: @debbietruong

Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.

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