Fishing activist Rob Merlino said a proposed change that would allow fishermen to have only one line in the water would hamper their efforts.

VENICE — A proposed ordinance that would ban gear typically used to target sharks at the Venice Municipal Fishing Pier may imperil fishing in general, because the Venice City Council on Oct. 22 agreed to limit fishermen to having only one line in the water.


"If they pass it with one line, they will have universal disobedience on that," said Rob Merlino, a south Sarasota County resident who frequents the pier and has been critical of the city’s attempt to ban shark fishing. "That basically says, ‘Let’s eliminate fishing.’"


The ordinance, which passed unanimously on first reading Oct. 22, was changed on the suggestion of Mayor John Holic to cut the number of poles any single angler can have in the water from two to one.


The main purpose of the ordinance, as crafted by City Attorney Kelly Fernandez in consultation with the general council of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is to ban use of specific gear associated with shark fishing on the pier, including fishing with a metal leader greater than 4 feet in length and using a fighting belt, or using a fighting harness with a fishing rod.


The ordinance also forbids an angler from chumming, or tossing bait in the water without being hooked to a fishing line.


The ordinance also calls for the posting of markers prohibiting swimming within 150 feet of the pier, and designating the remainder of Brohard Beach by the pier and Venice Beach as swimmer-first locations.


It also forbids bicycling, skating, rollerblading and skateboarding on the pier.


Council meetings start at 9 a.m., in chambers at 401 W. Venice Ave., Venice.


The most recent discussion on shark fishing started in May, when Mayor John Holic wanted information on new state rules governing shark fishing that went into effect July 1.


Chief among them are requirements that shark fishermen take an online "Shark-Smart Fishing" course, as well as a permit requirement for shore-based shark fishing.


Holic had been concerned by documented incidents of hammerhead sharks washing up near the Venice Municipal Fishing Pier.


State rules discourage shark fishing from piers, partly because it is difficult to ensure they will live after being released.


Hammerhead sharks are among 27 varieties of sharks that fishermen are prohibited from keeping.


Council members based their decision on more than humane treatment of sharks.


Vice Mayor Rich Cautero noted that he has talked with people who were unaware that shark fishing was practiced at the pier and were concerned about taking their grandchildren to the beach.


"I think this is a prudent course to take," Cautero said at the Oct. 22 hearing. "You’d rather err on the side of caution and safety here."


The pier, located at 1600 Harbor Drive South, is next to Sharky’s on the Pier and Fins at Sharky’s.


The ordinance does not forbid fishermen from catching sharks at the pier, merely using specific gear.


Merlino said it won’t change the way he fishes at the pier.


"It’s more of a principle thing," he said.


"Law-abiding types like me — my gear is already in compliance with the FWC ordinance, which is what their ordinance mimics," Merlino added.


While Merlino had started a gofundme page to raise money for an attorney to challenge the ordinance, he took that down for lack of response.


The last-minute change from Holic to allow fishermen to have only one line in the water, Merlino said, thwarts fishermen who have one line in for bait to use for a bigger catch.


Merlino cited his personal use of one line to catch a Blue Runner to use as bait for Kingfish.


State law actually only requires for a fishermen to be able to attend to the line. Merlino characterized this as having the end of the rod within reaching distance.


"Two lines is manageable, three lines is manageable," Merlino said. "If they pass that, they’re going to make outlaws out of everyone on that pier."


Holic said he asked for the change because a fisherman cannot reel in two poles at once.


You can only reel in one line at a time, so use one line," said Holic, who went on to note that if there were, say, 50 fishermen with two lines each on the pier, that could lead to crowded conditions. Then when you factor in people strolling out there to watch the sunset, it could get too crowded.


A fisherman reeling in one line but with a strike on their second line may have enough room to work, said Holic, who then asked rhetorically, "Where are the people who are not fishing — but for whom that pier was built, too — where are they going to go?"


Merlino, who typically fishes in the morning, acknowledged that the added restriction was designed to control "the weekend, evening crowd, when there are a lot of sungazers out there."


Still, he lopped the fishing pole restriction with other restrictions already on the books that the city does not heavily enforce — ranging from a prohibition against dogs on the pier and watercraft approaching too close to the structure.


"They’re going to waste time, resources and create a lot of acrimony out there," Merlino said. "From a practical standpoint, it’s just stupid.


"They might as well say, ‘Don’t fish out here.’"