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Shark bite: Fishermen were mindful of swimmer safety, one says

Lifestyle and LeisureFishingSwimming
A juvenile white shark can get hurt biting a human, so when one did off Manhattan Beach, it was a surprise
Fishermen who hooked a shark that then bit a man were trying to protect swimmers, one of the fishermen says

The fishermen who hooked a great white shark in Manhattan Beach on Saturday were trying to guide the fish to deep water and away from swimmers when it bit one, one of the fishermen said Sunday.

Some beachgoers have been critical of the fishermen involved in the incident, which occurred Saturday at about 9:30 a.m. near the pier. The agitated juvenile shark, about seven to 10 feet long, bit long-distance swimmer Steven Robles. The 50-year-old Realtor was rushed to the hospital with injuries that, although not life-threatening, were testament to a harrowing encounter.

Almost immediately, rumors spread that the fishermen had thrown chum into the water, specifically to attract the young great whites, which are common in the area.

This wasn't the case, according to the fisherman and Eric Martin, the co-director of Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, which is located at the end of the pier.

The fisherman asked to be identified only by his first name, Jason, out of concern for his safety from angry swimmers and surfers.

He said he and two friends arrived at the pier at about 5 a.m. Their goal was to catch large bat rays, which they catch and release. They'd gone to other piers in recent months because fishermen were hooking mainly great whites at Manhattan Beach, which are not their target, he said.

Their bait was frozen sardines, which they attached to their fishing hooks, but nothing was biting, Jason said, and they were thinking of going home when one of his friends got a mighty pull.

"My buddy's pole takes off. He fights for 10 or 15 minutes and passes it to me," he said. "We spent 20 to 30 minutes not knowing what it is yet. When we catch bat rays in excess of 150 pounds, their pull and tug is similar to a great white. They're called mud marlins because of the way they fight."

Jason, in turn, handed the pole to the third fisherman to take over.

They clearly identified their catch as a shark when it surfaced about 150 yards away and about 30 yards offshore -- and about 10 feet from a surfer, Jason said.

"Everyone was yelling that there's a shark and to get out of the water," Jason said. "We were yelling at everybody to clear the water."

It's illegal to pull a great white out of the water, said aquarium director Martin, adding that some fishermen will pull a shark all the way to the pier so they can take a picture before cutting the line.

Jason said his understanding of the rules was that they are supposed to cut the line immediately, but "we weren’t going to cut the line with the shark that close to swimmers. Our main concern was taking the shark further out to sea before cutting the line -- turning his head and pulling him out to sea."

This struggle ensued for about 10 minutes when the path of the shark crossed a group of about 10 distance swimmers, who were well offshore and could not hear the shouting.

Jason and Martin said that initially there was amusement on the pier over the idea that a few swimmers would get a close encounter with the shark.

Juvenile great whites are not known to threaten humans so there was no great concern about a bite until it happened, said Martin. In fact, biting a human -- or a sea lion, which is the common prey of the adults -- could injure a juvenile by breaking off its less rigid "baby" teeth.

The bite was almost certainly the result of an accidental encounter between the swimmer and the agitated shark, said Martin: "A shark and a swimmer came together at the right place at the wrong time.”

Martin said that he was able to identify the fish as a shark fairly early in its struggle with the fishing line. He said he couldn't tell when the fishermen knew what they were dealing with.

"These guys do know the law," he said. "What they were thinking I can’t answer." Among the fishermen who use the pier, they are regarded as solid citizens, he added.

Jason, 35, described himself as a warehouse worker with a family who used fishing to help clean up his life.

"I used to be in gangs, do drugs, do all kinds of negative things," he said. "I fished when I was a kid. Since I went back to it, I've been clean. I think it helps me stay out of trouble."

He added: "We are deeply concerned about the swimmer. No one intended this to happen."

Authorities said they had no plans at this time to cite or arrest the fishermen.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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