December 1, 2007

Shark Season Starts Today: Despite New Law, Fishing Will Be Off-Limits Most Places

By Terry Massey, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Dec. 1--An amended beach ordinance that makes it legal to fish for sharks in Horry County starting today apparently will carry little bite.

That's according to pier owners, city ordinances that supersede the new rule and fishing experts who expect little effect from the ordinance change, which allows shark fishing in the county from Dec. 1 to the last day of February.

Existing city ordinances in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach forbidding shark fishing from within a half-mile or mile of the shoreline take precedence, leaving only unincorporated areas of Horry County affected by the recent ordinance change. Georgetown County currently has no ordinances regarding shark fishing.

The affected piers include Apache Pier, Cherry Grove Pier, Garden City Pier and Springmaid Pier, all of which are privately owned and can make their own policies regarding shark fishing. All four piers plan to continue to enforce their rules against it.

The lone exception is Myrtle Beach State Park Pier, which is owned by the state. Park manager Jerry Ives said shark fishing will be allowed during the specified months only.

"We're going to stand by the ordinance, but we don't expect it to affect us," Ives said. "It's the offseason, there's nobody in the water and there aren't many sharks this time of year anyway. It's not going to be an issue."

That's because the winter months are the worst possible time to find sharks lurking off the Grand Strand's coastal waters, according to Coastal Carolina University professor Don Millus, author of "Fishing the Southeast Coast."

"I really don't think you're going to be catching very many sharks in the middle of winter," Millus said. "The sharks come in to feed in the summertime, so I really don't think it's going to have much of an impact."

The issue has raised safety concerns among pier owners and other concerned citizens who see shark fishing as a public hazard. Pier fishermen are currently required to cut their lines if they hook a shark.

"I've talked with all the pier managers and we strongly feel that people should not be allowed to land sharks from the piers or from the beach," said Lyn Smith, manager of Capt. Dick's Marina and Grand Strand Fishing Rodeo chairwoman. Smith oversees the Rodeo tournament for all the area piers. "It's a public safety issue, and pulling a 6-foot shark up on a pier or a beach full of people isn't safe."

Smith said the current beach ordinance has served the area well since it was written in 1985. County Council made 22 changes to it in June. "I don't understand what changed that suddenly made shark fishing a good idea," Smith said. "It's not safe and it's not good for the area's image."

A group of fishermen led by Don Shanks, who could not be reached for comment, petitioned Horry County Council last summer about the issue, arguing that the lack of tourists and beachgoers in the winter months should remove any fears about public safety issues.

"The previous beach ordinance said you are not allowed to fish for sharks period," Horry County Director of Public Safety Paul Whitten said. "We had some citizens come and say, 'Why? Does this really make sense?' I said it was a public safety hazard. You start catching sharks, dragging them on the beach, and the sharks are flopping around. I'd say there is a rational concern for the public safety. The citizens said that's not really relevant in the middle of January when your beach is not crowded with kids swimming. I listened to the argument and thought that made sense."

Local fishermen agree, saying the change in the ordinance should have little effect since the colder water keeps sharks away, as well as the tourists. In fact, the change in the ordinance might actually attract out-of-town fishermen hoping to catch a shark in the offseason.

"First off, you're not going to find any sharks that close in the winter," said local fisherman Ted Hammerman. "But, as long as the sharks aren't an endangered species, what's the harm? It might bring fishermen here when nobody else is here."

Smith disagrees, saying a warm spell in early December or late February could bring the sharks back in search of food. And the image of someone clubbing a shark -- or a shark taking a bite out of an inexperienced fisherman -- is not what the Grand Strand is about.

"Do you know how many times we have to take hooks out of people's hands and heads because they don't know what they're doing?" she said.

"Now put a shark up on the pier and some yahoo is beating its brains out with a baseball bat or a tire iron. Does that sound safe? Is that the image our area needs?

"I'm against it for surf fishing, too, because it's too easy for someone to get bit.

"I'm not trying to protect people from themselves, but there are just too many people who don't know what they're dealing with when they catch a big shark."

ONLINE -- To view Massey's blog, 'Sports Gumbo,' go to

Contact TERRY MASSEY at 626-0371 or at [email protected]


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