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Fisherman defends his actions as shark bite incident ignites controversy

Fisherman who angled shark: 'We're being made out to look like we're heartless and that's just not true'
South Bay fisherman defends actions, says previous online posts about fishing great white sharks were jokes

A South Bay fisherman is defending his actions amid growing anger directed at pier anglers, following Saturday’s shark bite incident in Manhattan Beach that shocked surfers and swimmers.

Officials on scene said that a group of anglers on the pier had hooked and struggled with the shark, which became increasingly agitated before biting 50-year-old distance swimmer Steven Robles.

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FOR THE RECORD

July 15, 2:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the fisherman's name as Hagermann. The correct spelling is Hagemann.

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Jason Hagemann, one of the fishermen, says he’s inaccurately being portrayed as careless and callous because of a video of the event that has gone viral.

Onlookers heard on the recording appear to be making light of the shark’s close encounter with nearby swimmers. One of them noted the animal had "jumped right on top" of Robles before hearing his screams and realizing he’d been bitten.

“We’re being made out to look like we’re heartless and careless, and that’s just not true,” he said.

Hagemann admits that his voice was one of those heard laughing early on the video.

“Yes, I was sort of laughing at the time, because at that point, I had no idea he was bitten,” Hagemann told The Times, adding that he and others were laughing at the thought of how swimmers might react if they saw the shark, not thinking they could actually be in danger.

Missing from the video, he said, were scenes in which he and his friends tried to warn beachgoers to stay away from the water. By the time the recording had started, Hagemann said, the fishermen realized they couldn’t easily warn the swimmers farther out, who were within striking distance of the shark.

Instead of cutting the fishing line to release the shark., Hagemann said, he and his friends decided to keep it on the line in hopes of guiding it away from the group of people.

He now says he wishes he’d just cut the line instead of handing the fishing pole over to another fisherman to wrangle.

State wildlife officials have said juvenile great whites have not been known to attack people. Hagemann said that the anglers didn't think it was likely, either, despite the fact that the predator had been thrashing on the other end of the fishing line for more than a half hour.

As soon as he realized Robles was bitten, Hagemann said, he ran down the pier and onto the sand to explain to police what had happened while rescuers treated the swimmer.

"If I'd seen that video, I'd think the same thing. I know it looks bad. But I was very concerned about the swimmer. People are jumping to conclusions who don't know me."

Still, the incident has angered many in the tight-knit community of surfers and particular ocean swimmers, who consider the stretch of the Santa Monica Bay near Manhattan Beach to be a mecca for the sport.

Dozens of locals have posted angry comments, some of them landing on the Facebook page of the Roundhouse Marine Aquarium, located at the end of the Manhattan Beach pier where anglers are often stationed.

“It’s clear from the audio on the video that everyone was in on the fact that it was a shark on the hook and thought it was all fun and games...until it wasn’t,” one poster wrote to Hagemann, who has vehemently defended fishing and the pier regulars.

“I’ve read all of your comments and I watched the video and your comments are inconsistent,” insisted another.

Others have sent threatening messages to him via Facebook, Hagemann says, and posted his profile photos to public forums, pointing out his online affiliation with other shark fishing enthusiasts and organizations and comments he’s made about attempting to lure great whites.

Hagemann admits posting in a Facebook group called the “Shark Boyz Shark Fishing Crew,” and points out that unlike targeting great whites, fishing for other sharks like soup-fins and leopard sharks is perfectly legal.

Often, anglers can attract great white sharks by accident, Hagemann said, but the animals can often chew through the type of fishing line they use.

The fisherman also admits that he has written posts online, some of which have been removed, about fishing for great white sharks and attempting to bring them to the pier pilings, which is illegal.

He admits boasting online of an incident last year in which he hooked and dragged an 8-foot great white to the Manhattan Beach Pier before cutting it loose. Afterward, Hagemann said, he read up on state regulations and never did it again.

In other posts this year, Hagemann insisted that if a fisherman hooked a great white and failed to drag it to the pier, Hagemann wrote in one post, it was considered a “farm,” or simply feeding the fish rather than fishing it out, a failure in sportfishing terms, he explained.

An official with the state Fish and Wildlife department said they have been made aware of the posts and the video, and do not plan to cite the fishermen.

Meanwhile, the city of Manhattan Beach has temporarily banned all fishing from the pier until September, as it examines whether to institute further regulations or a more permanent ban.

Hagemann insists the comments were made in jest.

“We like to sit around and clown each other,” Hagemann told The Times. “The point was not to hook the great white, but if it happened, it happened. It was never a game, there was never any real competition…I’m a joker and unfortunately, I joked about the wrong thing.”

For more breaking news, follow me @cmaiduc

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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