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Shark bite exposes uneasy coexistence between fishermen, beachgoers

Biting of swimmer by great white exposed uneasy coexistence between fishermen, beachgoers at Manhattan pier
Swimmer Steve Robles is expected to recover from bite
Shark is free, but the fishermen involved are not off hook with swimmers and surfers

The weekend biting of a long-distance swimmer by a great white shark exposed an uneasy coexistence between fishermen and beachgoers at Manhattan Beach Pier.

The swimmer, Steve Robles, a 50-year-old real estate professional, is expected to recover from the bite he suffered Saturday. The shark is free, but the fishermen involved are not off the hook with swimmers and surfers.

On Sunday, some accused the fishermen of precipitating the encounter by "chumming" — tossing bloody fish guts into the water to attract the shark.

"Us surfers and bodyboarders and swimmers, we despise the fishermen on our pier," surfer Mimi Miller told ABC News. "It is a nuisance for them to be there. They put us in danger every single day that they're there."

Eric Martin, co-director of the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium at the end of the pier, said the fishermen had not been casting chum into the ocean — just using regular bait.

At a typical beach and pier in Southern California, fishermen and beachgoers often compete for limited space.

In Manhattan Beach this equation includes juvenile great white sharks, who have settled on that portion of Santa Monica Bay as something of a teen hangout.

Experts say both the fishermen and the swimmers may be exacerbating the risk that the predators pose. The sharks have become a target for some fishermen, who are allowed to hook them and pull them up to the pier's pilings before having to release them.

Fishermen say beach users sometimes put themselves at risk. The Internet is filling up with videos of close encounters. Long-distance swimmers will grab fishing lines and float in the deeper water where fishermen trolling for bat rays might bring up a great white instead.

"It is not safe for the swimmers at all," said Jason, one of the fishermen who snagged the shark Saturday morning just before it bit Robles. He spoke on the condition his last name not be published, saying he feared for his safety and that of his family.

The fisherman said he sought a police escort to get to his vehicle because "while we were packing up to leave, people were telling us that surfers and swimmers were ganging up and that we were going to get jumped."

Manhattan Beach police Sgt. Matt Sabosky could not confirm Jason's account Sunday, although he said it was possible his officers did provide assistance.

Jason said he and two friends had arrived at the pier about 5 a.m. Their goal was to catch large bat rays and release them. They'd gone to other piers in recent months because fishermen were hooking mainly great whites at Manhattan Beach, he said.

Their bait was frozen sardines, which they attached to their hooks. Nothing was biting; they were bored and thinking of going home, said Jason, when one buddy got a mighty pull. All three took turns gripping the pole for more than 30 minutes.

He said they identified their catch as a shark when it surfaced about 30 yards offshore — and about 10 feet from a surfer, Jason said.

"Our main concern was taking the shark further out to sea before cutting the line — turning his head and pulling him out to sea," Jason said.

There is disagreement over how soon they could have or should have cut the line.

The hooked shark cut toward a group of about 10 distance swimmers — including Robles — well offshore.

A video, circulating widely online, shows the fishermen seeming to make light of the shark's approach toward the swimmers until they realize someone had been hurt.

Before the shark was hooked, Avner Papouchado, 47, who was paddle-boarding nearby, said he was struck by the thickness of the fishermen's line — making it suitable for big-game fish — and how far it extended from the pier.

Juvenile great whites are not known to threaten humans, Martin said. Biting a human — or a sea lion, which is the common prey of adult sharks — could injure a juvenile by breaking off its less rigid "baby" teeth.

The bite was almost certainly the result of an accidental collision between swimmer and agitated shark, Martin said.

Authorities said they had no plans to cite or arrest the fisherman, but no fishing will be allowed until Tuesday.

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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