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Beware of what lurks beneath the sand
Indian Rocks Beach Commission discusses discarded fishing gear
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Indian Rocks Beach resident Donna Valery displays a lure and hook that she found among the seaweed.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Donna Valery knew something was amiss when she felt a pinprick on her toe while walking on the beach recently. Valery, who walks the beach practically every morning, looked down and discovered, covered in seaweed, a fisherman’s 9-inch lure with six barbed hooks. She was upset and concerned enough to bring the matter up at a recent meeting of the Indian Rocks Beach Commission.

“That lure had six barbed hooks. Why would you need something that big; it is scary,” she said.

Valery said barbed hooks are outlawed in Washington State and in Ontario, Canada.

“Those barbs go into people and when you pull them out it is pulling skin with it, just like a sting ray,” she said. “The barbs are only there to keep the live bait on; it has nothing to do with keeping a fish on the line.”

Overall, Valery said she is concerned about the safety of the beach, particularly of the many children who play and swim at the beach.

“Those hooks are hidden half the time, in seaweed,” she said. “When you find them it can be too late.”

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor R.B. Johnson is no stranger to the hazards of walking the beach. He’s another daily walker and has been doing it for years.

“I’ve been here my whole life and when I was 12 or 13 years old, that’s 40 years ago now, I stepped on a hook and had to go to the hospital to get it removed. This is nothing new,” he said.

Johnson admits there isn‘t much the City Commission can do about the problem.

“You know there is a limited amount that we can do this side of banning fishing on the beach altogether and nobody is in favor of that,” he said. “Fishing has long been a part of the beach. In fact we had fishing piers here not that long ago. Banning fishing isn’t an option, but the next best thing is public awareness.”

Johnson said there have been many ideas floated to see how best to handle the problem of discarded fishing gear but nothing seems to stick.

“There was talk of developing special areas for fishermen and others for swimmers but that would inconvenience both groups. A swimmer who encounters a special fishing area would have to walk a distance to be able to get into the water, the same for the fishermen.”

He said enforcement is also difficult.

“A deputy could come across a fisherman with a tackle box and his gear on top of it, but who is to say that person intends to leave the gear on the beach,” he said. “The deputy would actually have to see it happen and that isn’t likely in most cases.”

Johnson did say greater police presence on the beach might serve to curb the problem somewhat.

“The public awareness campaign might get people thinking, then having the Sheriff’s Office on the beach. Waving the flag so to speak would help keep people on their toes.”

Commissioner Jim Labadie doesn’t exactly agree with the concern over the items left by fishermen. He owns and operates a motel on the beach and talks to his guest regularly about their experience on the beach.

“For the most part our guests are very impressed with the way the beach is kept,” he said. “Granted we are located between two beach accesses so we have very little trash around; it seems people dispose of their trash around where the receptacles are as they are coming and going from the beach.”

Labadie admitted that the trash can be a problem from time to time but he said it is a common problem in all beach communities, not just in IRB. He wonders why people are upset now.

“I think it is the heat of summer getting to people,” he said. “They have a right to come before us and they did. But I don’t see a lot of collateral damage. I just walked the beach and I didn’t see a lot of stuff.”

Donna Valery admitted she chose to bring the subject up at the July 8 commission meeting because she knew a lot of people would be there on an unrelated parking issue.

“I was hoping to bring people’s attention to the things that are discarded on our beach,” she said. “I hope it will encourage people to use barbless hooks and bio-degradable lines. It is just people’s carelessness. Sometimes you’ll see long, spun out rolls of line mucked all over the place. The birds and the kids get tangled up in it.”

Valery said she encountered a fisherman who had hooked a bird and didn’t know how to set it free.

“We’re told time and time again to have a pair of wire-cutters in our fishing gear,” she said. “He didn’t have any so we had a tough time freeing the bird.”

Valery said common sense should prevail among fishermen and swimmers alike when on the beach. They should move away from one another to stay out of harm’s way. She admits the common sense isn’t always there.

“The offenders are both careless and clueless,” she said. “Half the time they aren’t thinking and the other half, they just don’t know.”

The issue may be brought to the Sheriff’s Office to see what can be done. Johnson thinks very little.

“There is nothing illegal with tackle in a fishing box,” he said.
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