Blue Heron Bridge Fishing

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dianna912

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I have been doing a lot of research into the background of the issue. I have been on the Blue Heron Bridge Club facebook page for years, and recently found the Preservation Society facebook page.

Over the last few months, the fishing controversy caught my attention, and I wanted to run some ideas past this group first, before I take ideas to the facebook group. I understand that the leaders of the movement to make BHB a no-take collection site are no longer on Scubaboard, and I am trying to make sure I understand the history fully, so that all efforts are pointed in the right direction.

I must say, it is incredibly impressive how the diving community came together to protect the diversity of the BHB. I am hoping that we can now come together (maybe even with the fishermen) to protect each other, and to protect this gem of a site.

When I first dove (pun intended) into this topic, I was 100% on board with fighting as hard as possible to protect the park, and make it a marine sanctuary. When I was reading all of the different perspectives I could find, though, I can see points from all sides of this issue. For the safety of divers, Dan Volker made a great point many years ago:

I know what you mean...but I think it was something else......I think the idea that "divers" are pushing for a "sancturay" sent a message to fisherman and boaters and to others that we did not intend.....I think they suddenly became afraid that our "goal" or the ultimate result of a successful action on out part, would be the elimination of fishing at the bridge, and for the boaters, it would mean major navigational problems that could be a nightmare for some.

I think it is imporatant that we make very clear we are NOT desiring to restrict fishing at the park---for one thing, the species we are concerned with in this juvenile nursery, the tropicals and very rare marine life, are NOT effected by fishing--they are not hooked ( maybe one accident in 6 months--certainly no amount of accidental catch volume to justify removing the fisherman).
As a group, we need to realize this is Riviera Beach..this is "their" area....the locals have been fishing the bridge for many generations, and if we attempt to hurt this enjoyment and lifestyle, we will create a horrific battle in which even if we won, we would lose in the long run.

The reality is that we need the local fisherman, and the local families as allies. This is crucial.

We need the park to be a friendly family place, and one where the criminal element does not feel welcome in ( and are immediately reported on if they show up). We need the fisherman for this, especially as the County Sherifs are no longer patrolling the park, and the entire job is now left to the Riviera Beach police force. These guys are spread too thin, and we will not have the constant presence of past years--so we need a "Neighborhood Watch" kind of Plan B. Again, we desparately need the fisherman to see us as part of their family.

This quote right here really shifted my thinking on this subject.

It is SO easy to get caught up in the tribalism that seems pervasive throughout all aspects of our society. We see it every day, but I really hope we can figure out a way to come together on this issue. I believe most everyone truly wants the same thing, we just need to figure out how to get there.

The divers' stories lately are awful. I am sure we can all sympathize with every diver who has gotten hooked or netted there. The abhorrent behaviors of a few puts lives at risk, and this needs to be addressed.

On the other hand, we've got the fishermen. It is interesting reading the comments on Dr. Botel's facebook post, because it gives us a lot of insight into what the fishing community is thinking. Part of the problem is ignorance. I don't mean that in the ugly way, but the literal definition. They do not know better. I'll list the things that I've found that they don't know:

They don't know the significance of this dive site for divers and for our marine ecosystem in general.

They don't understand that divers cannot see a line or hook in the water, typically until it is too late.

They don't understand that "hooking" a diver can literally kill them.

Some of them actually believe that divers get hooked on purpose just to spite them.

They don't even understand that we are only diving once a day (except for the night dives.)

Divers on the other hand look at the fishermen and see a few things: we see the lines and hooks and sinkers on the ocean floor, entangling our beloved critters. We see fish hooked through their bodies, dying. A moray eel swimming with a weight dragging behind it. We see our friends and loved ones being put at risk, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. And we cannot understand why in the world they can't just fish of the fishing pier in the park. (And it seems to be a prevalent theory that the fishermen only want to fish from the bridge so they can drink alcohol. Fishermen say they want to fish there because parking the park is ridiculous. Which, to be fair, is 100% true. At least we can agree on one thing!)

I believe a couple of things happened this year, and someone correct me if I'm wrong. There were some rare instances of divers getting hooked, especially on night dives. Someone reached out to FDOT and got a sympathetic ear. FDOT put up signs on Feb 22nd with "no fishing" on the East side of the BHB. The fishermen still had access to fishing at the park, but just from the old bridge fishing pier. Fishermen threw a fit. Dr. Julia Botel, Riviera Beach got involved. She made a call to FDOT, who pulled the signs down, stating that they did not go through the proper process. She started a dialogue between fishermen and divers, and was supposed to be working on a solution. Unfortunately, this all happened to be around election time, and once she was re-elected, suddenly, it was much less urgent. I don't think she's made a public statement on the issue since her re-election.

Since the signs went up and came back down, the fishermen became a dangerous combination of reckless and spiteful. They have started intentionally hooking divers much more often, much more brazenly, and fully unapologetic. Divers have been netted and screamed at, intentionally. It's an ugly situation.

I think there are a few different ways to proceed forward, and it each comes with its own drawbacks.

The first option is for the diving community to aggressively court the fishermen, offering up an olive branch, offering up education, and trying really damn hard to negotiate some peace terms.

The next option would be going back to FDOT. Now that situation is very interesting. I talked to the comms director for FDOT, and he pleaded ignorance on the entire ordeal. It struck me as very odd. But he did say that FDOT will NOT take sides in something like this. They will only get involved if it can be established that fishing from the bridge is in some way impeding traffic, be it pedestrian, cyclists, or autos. If, for example, line and hooks is left on the bridge. If fish remains are left on the bridge. If casting is also hooking pedestrians or cyclists, then they will put signs up. This is likely the most rapid remedy, because divers have already been collecting evidence of exactly this, and I'm fully confident that if I put out a request for more evidence, it will be easy to get. I may go ahead and ask for evidence of this as a "just in case" in the event that other ideas do not work.

And the nuclear option would be to push again for FWC (possibly in partnership with PBC?) to be designated as a marine sanctuary with no rec fishing allowed at all. This has been discussed fairly extensively, but the risks of asking for regulations of that sort are that we regulate ourselves out of a dive site. The flilp side of that coin, though, is this: if we were to get sanctuary designation, could we have a "tag" system similar to Bonaire, in which divers pay, say $25 a year to dive in the marine park? This would address some of the funding issues that have been brought up frequently.

One thing that confounds me is this: The park is a county park, not a city park. So why is the city council even involved with the fishing discussion? Why was Dr. Botel under the impression that FDOT needed her permission to do something that was 100% within their purview to do. Only FDOT has a say in whether fishing is allowed from an FDOT bridge. I snagged this picture from one of the other discussions on this topic.

Anyways, my thought is: we tackle all three approaches. We work on diplomacy with the fishermen, but we also start collecting evidence so that if that approach fails, we can go straight to FDOT with evidence of traffic issues, and we can go straight to FWC with evidence of why this is a dangerous situation for divers and for the marine life.

Thoughts?
 

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Lostdiver71

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You are mistaken about the fact that this is a recent problem, fishermen have been intentionally hooking divers at the BHB for decades. Long before it was a popular dive site it was the alternate site that instructors took their students for their first 2 open water dives, when they could not get out on a boat. The first time I remember being hooked intentionally was in 1991. Now they are not only hooking divers but throwing cast nets on top of them, it is a matter of time before a diver is seriously injured or killed! Yes it is a County Park and a State Roadway so the City literally has no legal recourse if FDOT bans fishing on the roadway bridge other than to appeal it to FDOT. There has also been a longstanding problem with the fishermen blocking pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the bridge also and I swear that I remember that years ago it was prohibited to fish from that bridge, I know if you park there they will ticket you and many of the nearby businesses will tow your car if you park in their lot to go fishing. The only reason the City Council is involved is politics, they need things to take attention away from the rampant corruption in the city!
 
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dianna912

dianna912

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You are mistaken about the fact that this is a recent problem, fishermen have been intentionally hooking divers at the BHB for decades. Long before it was a popular dive site it was the alternate site that instructors took their students for their first 2 open water dives, when they could not get out on a boat. The first time I remember being hooked intentionally was in 1991. Now they are not only hooking divers but throwing cast nets on top of them, it is a matter of time before a diver is seriously injured or killed! Yes it is a County Park and a State Roadway so the City literally has no legal recourse if FDOT bans fishing on the roadway bridge other than to appeal it to FDOT. There has also been a longstanding problem with the fishermen blocking pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the bridge also and I swear that I remember that years ago it was prohibited to fish from that bridge, I know if you park there they will ticket you and many of the nearby businesses will tow your car if you park in their lot to go fishing. The only reason the City Council is involved is politics, they need things to take attention away from the rampant corruption in the city!

Thank you for clarifying! I would LOVE to get some evidence that fishing was banned years ago. I think that could really help with an FDOT case. It would also be incredible if we could get pedestrians and cyclists on board with a movement to ban fishing on the bridge itself. I do think that is our most expedious route to solving the issue. It seems like they are getting worse and worse, but maybe that's just because I'm looking for it.
 

sheeper

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There is a lot of community emotion and history at play as well. The park was a historically "black" beach in Palm Beach County back when most public beaches were restricted (no blacks or Jews allowed). Black history in the 1920's-1940's in Palm Beach County is full of what would horrify us today. The community takes this to heart in many ways.
African American Communities (pbchistoryonline.org)
 

JahJahwarrior

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I would totally support a $25 chip required per year to dive the bridge!
And I would totally support making the east span off limits to fisherman during high tide. Make it simple: paint a line on the pilings and sea walls. If the line is above the water, then fish away. Water above the line? No fishing.
At the same time, designate the fishing pier as a no diving zone, with X feet away, etc, and put markers underwater so divers can see and respect it.

I had a fisherman steal my flag once. Police report filed, it was his word against mine and he had tossed my flag somewhere by the time the cops showed up. I guess it helped stimulate the local economy as I bought a new flag from Pura Vida or Force E, don't remember which. Divers aren't trying to bother the fisherman, fishermen are trying to bother divers, so the instigators need to be stopped.

I would also support adding more markers, above and below the waterline, and making the area around the bridge completely off limits to all boats, then dropping the dive flag requirement for divers who stay within the bounds of the diving area. Not having flags would probably cut down the issue with fisherman by 30% alone.
 

tekkydiver

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Remember.... When people are fishing in compliance with the regulations....
379.105 Harassment of hunters, trappers, or fishers.—
(1) A person may not intentionally, within a publicly or privately owned wildlife management or fish management area or on any state-owned water body:
(a) Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, by another.
(b) Attempt to disturb fish, game, or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another.
(2) Any person who violates this section commits a Level Two violation under s. 379.401.
 

Lostdiver71

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Remember.... When people are fishing in compliance with the regulations....
379.105 Harassment of hunters, trappers, or fishers.—
(1) A person may not intentionally, within a publicly or privately owned wildlife management or fish management area or on any state-owned water body:
(a) Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, by another.
(b) Attempt to disturb fish, game, or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another.
(2) Any person who violates this section commits a Level Two violation under s. 379.401.

The key to that statute is intent, you have to intentionally interfere or disturb the fisherman or fish to prevent them from harvesting the fish. If they are intentionally hooking or dropping weighted nets onto divers that is at least an assault charge and depending on different factors could be charged as battery or even attempted murder.
 

JahJahwarrior

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Remember.... When people are fishing in compliance with the regulations....
379.105 Harassment of hunters, trappers, or fishers.—
(1) A person may not intentionally, within a publicly or privately owned wildlife management or fish management area or on any state-owned water body:
(a) Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, by another.
(b) Attempt to disturb fish, game, or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another.
(2) Any person who violates this section commits a Level Two violation under s. 379.401.

Of course we cannot intentionally interfere with the lawful taking of fish or disturb them to prevent their lawful taking by fisherman. But this same regulation does not give carte blanche to fisherman to attempt to harm people without consequences.

Drop scuba divers from the conversation, imagine two fisherman fishing on the bridge. One of them feels that another is too close, maybe they are 1 fishing pole rod length away, and the fisherman feels he cannot perform his famous side cast technique, so this other person's proximity is in effect, interfering with his attempt to lawfully taking fish.

Does this mean he can try to hit the other person with his hook? No, that would be assault. However, he can call the police and the police will determine whether to arrest the offending fisherman. In practice? The fisherman would just take a few steps in another direction.

If we add back in the scuba divers, the fisherman can see other fisherman in their way on the land. But as a diver, I cannot see him, his line, hook or bait, in most circumstances. For the most part, I don't think the fisherman could claim that, by the virtue of my swimming around, that I am interfering or have any intent to prevent a lawful taking. And, just like the fisherman who is too close, this doesn't give him the right to try and hit me with a sharp object. Now, I am sure that the fisherman will claim they have no intent, but actions matter more than words.

All activities have their place and time. I have no intention of spilling oil when I do an oil change, but I still do those in the garage, not in the living room.
I don't recall seeing too many people fishing from shore in the middle of Miami beach during spring break. Too many swimmers around can make fishing unsafe.

We also don't have this problem, as far as I'm aware, in the swim zone. I imagine that the lifeguards at BHB would not allow people to fish in the swimzone, just like they don't allow us to scuba dive in the swim zone. In other words, there is already clear precedent to having off limit zones and times for both fishing and scuba diving at the bridge, so the question isn't if, but just "where."
 

Lostdiver71

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Fishermen are not allowed to fish or cast net in the swim zone, but I have seen them do it when lifeguards are not present.
 

tarponchik

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Most fishermen are Black or Hispanic, most divers are White. My gut feeling tells me this is going to be an escalating confrontation between the two parties with unknown results. I hope nobody dies.
 
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