State officials are continuing to gather information about a Saturday incident in which a great white shark bit a swimmer in Manhattan Beach, but said Tuesday they have no plans to cite the fishermen who hooked the shark shortly before the bite happened.
“We have no reason to believe that these fishermen were targeting great whites that day,” said Capt. Rebecca Hartman, a law enforcement officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hartman says officials are continuing to gather information from any witnesses who come forward, but are not actively investigating the fishermen’s actions.
Authorities at the scene Saturday said the juvenile shark, which was about 7 to 10 feet long, thrashed on the fishing line for more than 40 minutes and became increasingly agitated before biting 50-year-old long-distance swimmer Steve Robles.
Video of the incident, in which some individuals on the pier appear to be making light of swimmers’ close encounters with the shark just before the attack, has angered some ocean swimmers and surfers. Robles’ apparent screams can be heard later on the recording, at which point onlookers yelled warnings to the surfers below to get out of the water.
Hartman says wildlife officials have reviewed the video, and interviewed two of the fishermen, who confirmed they can be heard on the recording.
“So far, we have found nothing to indicate that this was malicious,” Hartman said of the incident.
One of them, Jason Hagemann, told the Los Angeles Times that he and his friends had been using frozen sardines to fish for large bat rays, which they catch and release.
Hagemann claimed they did not realize they’d caught a shark until it surfaced about 30 yards from shore and within striking distance of a surfer. It's illegal to fish for great white sharks in California, and fishermen must immediately cut their line once they realize they’ve baited one, Hartman said.
Hagemann told officials that he understood the regulations, but that fearing for swimmers’ safety, he kept the shark on the fishing line in an attempt to guide him away from the crowded water.
“I can understand that logic,” Hartman said.
Eric Martin, who runs the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier where the fishermen gathered, and Hagemann said some people on the pier were initially amused that some swimmers might get a scare from the shark.
Historically, juvenile great whites have not been known to threaten humans.
“They basically didn’t think the swimmers were in danger,” Hartman said. “They just expected the shark to swim under the swimmers and scare them. Nobody anticipated this happening. It was just such an unfortunate chain of events.”
Some swimmers aren’t buying that explanation.
“If those guys knew they had a shark on the line, they should have cut that line immediately and screamed bloody murder,” said Lou Caron, an ocean swimmer who left the water minutes before the shark bite happened.
“There are swimmers and surfers and fishermen who all love the water, and we might get in each other’s way sometimes, but nobody goes out of their way to hurt anyone. That was just pure carelessness.”
On Monday, Manhattan Beach officials extended a ban on fishing from the pier until September while they consider new regulations, including a longer ban. City and state officials said they have gotten many calls both from citizens concerned about the fishermen’s actions and about how the fisherman are being portrayed in media reports.
Hartman said her agency will continue to work with city officials as they explore the next steps for fishing on the pier.
“The public piers were built for fishing, and it happens daily with no negative interactions,” Hartman said. “Hopefully we can find a solution that allows fishermen and swimmers to continue to coexist peacefully at the beach.”
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4:33 p.m.: This post was updated to include the last name of fisherman Jason Hagemann, who had previously requested to be identified only by his first name.
5:50 p.m. Friday: This post was updated to correct the spelling of fisherman Jason Hagemann's last name.