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Swimmer bitten by shark to attend council meeting on fishing ban

Injured swimmer to attend Manhattan Beach Council meeting to discuss pier fishing after shark bite incident
Manhattan Beach officials to discuss pier fishing amid ban on anglers; swimmer injured by shark bite to attend
Manhattan Beach officials expected to decide whether to declare pier fishing a public nuisance on city's pier

The swimmer who is recovering from a shark bite over theFourth of July weekend will attend the Manhattan Beach City Council meeting Tuesday, where officials will discuss regulations on pier fishing or a possible permanent ban on it altogether.

Steven Robles, a 50-year-old real estate broker from Lomita, says the city’s decision to temporarily ban anglers from the Manhattan Beach Pier is “exactly what they should be doing” and that he looks forward to hearing what proposed solutions city officials will consider.

“The action of shutting down the pier through the whole summer was absolutely the right thing to do until they figure out what needs to be done to resolve this so it never happens again,” Robles said.

The July 5 encounter, in which Robles was bitten after a fisherman hooked a juvenile great white shark and struggled with it for more than 40 minutes, has ignited a passionate debate over the delicate balance among fishermen, swimmers, and surfers in local waters.

On one side are fishing enthusiasts, who say many of the public piers were built for fishing and cast it as a public access issue for residents who see the sport as an inexpensive hobby or a way to feed their families. Others question the wisdom of allowing fishermen, some of whom hunt for sharks, to cast out so close to areas used by surfers and swimmers.

Manhattan Beach officials have closed the pier to anglers until September, citing the need to protect public safety while they study options for further regulating the pier area.

City Council members are expected to decide Tuesday whether to declare pier fishing a public nuisance, in order to back up their 60-day ban, said Manhattan Beach Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Powell.

Some have called for the ban to be made permanent, a move that state wildlife officials have said they oppose.

Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth has said she and other city leaders are searching for a “reasonable” solution to the controversy.

“I don’t like that we’ve demonized fishermen because one guy was behaving seemingly very horribly,” Howorth said. “I certainly want to make it safe for people to enjoy the water and water sports.”

Howorth said among the options city staff has been exploring is the possibility of limiting fishing hours on the pier to stagger public beach use somewhat.

 Powell said the city might also consider banning the use of thick steel fishing line and large hooks that fishermen targeting sharks and bat rays are known to use.

“It would be really awful if this happened again and someone gets killed, to say, ‘Gee, we wish we had had some regulations in place,’” Powell told The Times. “There are certain things that have no business on our pier.”

In a phone interview with The Times, Robles said he was continuing to recover from his injuries and that he had more stitches removed from his abdomen Monday morning. He was finally able to get out of the house this weekend to see his friends participate in an annual pier swim event in Newport Beach, but he watched from the shore.

Robles, who has no medical insurance, says he’s facing a pile of hospital bills, and he hasn’t been able to go back to work. Friends have set up a fundraising page in his name.

He called the fishermen’s actions, some of which have been highlighted in a video of the incident, “reckless” and “stupid.”

Jason Hagemann, one of the fishermen who hooked the shark, has vigorously defended his actions in the media. State wildlife officials have said they would not prosecute him.

“No excuse can justify what his actions were with all of those swimmers out there,” Robles said. “This could have been a little kid. It could have been a whole lot worse.”

Robles says he hasn’t made up his mind how he feels about the idea of banning pier fishing in Manhattan Beach permanently.

“I want to hear what they have to say because I know it’s a very complicated issue,” Robles said. “But if they want me to, I’ll get up there and tell them what it was like to stare at a great white shark. I’ll get up there and tell them just how close I was to dying.”

For more breaking news, follow me @cmaiduc

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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