Thuggery causes Sebastian north jetty to close at night

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http://www.floridatoday.com/story/sports/2016/09/01/sargent-sebastian-north-jetty-closing-night/89744380/

SEBASTIAN INLET — Because of increasing reports of vengeful behavior by some fishermen, Sebastian Inlet’s popular north jetty fishing pier will be closed at night for a temporary period starting in about two weeks.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the five-member Sebastian Inlet District Commission voted 3-2 in an unprecedented move to close the 745-foot jetty from dusk to dawn daily while commission staff and its legal counsel work with state and local agencies for better law enforcement and ways to quell the reckless activity.

Of primary concern to the commission are the numerous reports its staff has received from boaters becoming the targets of jetty anglers throwing or casting lead weights, lures and other objects into their boats, mostly at night.

A small band of troublemakers are believed responsible.

Despite the fact the jetty is within the Sebastian Inlet State Park, the jetty is owned and maintained by the Sebastian Inlet District making the district responsible for the management of the pier. It also maintains and manages the inlet waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Indian River.

District administrator Martin Smithson said there were isolated cases of angler-boater interaction for years, but more serious incidents have escalated in the last two years.

“We have a file full of complaints from boaters who have been struck with objects thrown from the jetty,” Smithson said. “A bad situation is just waiting to happen where someone gets hit and falls overboard.”

The most recent incident occurred on Aug. 12 at 8:30 p.m. when a boater nearly lost a finger that became wrapped in an angler’s line he was trying to clear from the cockpit of his boat. In the process the angler jerked hard on the line. The injury required medical treatment.

Scott Schopke showed the commissioners the 2-ounce plastic-tail jig that was cast into the boat occupied by his son and his girlfriend.

“It was the second of two lines cast toward them,” Schopie said. “There’s a big difference between bad sportsmanship and malicious intent. This guy who made the cast made a malicious attempt to injure my son.”

Florida statute 790.19, in part, states that hurling or projecting a missile into a vessel is a second-degree felony punishable by the maximum of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

During outgoing inlet tides, when the turbulence peaks at the mouth of the inlet, boaters entering and exiting the inlet will follow the calmer conditions along the curvature of the jetty, putting them within range of the casters. Because of its strong tides and narrow width Sebastian is regarded as a dangerous inlet to navigate.

Smithson said it would take at least two weeks to construct a barrier and gate at the western most point of the jetty. The gate will be locked each evening and anyone found on the jetty between dusk and dawn will be charged with illegal trespassing.

All other areas of the inlet and the park will remain open 24 hours a day.

“When we find some answers to the problems we’ll call for another special (commission) meeting and the commissioners will consider re-opening the jetty,” Smithson said.

Commissioner Beth Mitchell of Sebastian, who made the motion for closure, said the commission has been diligent. “But the agencies involved have not been as responsive. We need our people to work with these agencies to do a better job.”

The district does not have law enforcement personnel, nor does Florida State Parks, which turned over its law enforcement responsibilities in 2012 to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office also has jurisdiction on the jetty.

Several of the two dozen people at the meeting said there is little, if any, law enforcement presence on the jetty.

“We need law enforcement,” Jose Dore said. “We never see law enforcement out there.”

Mike Maher said he quit fishing at night because of the problems.

“I’ve been hit numerous times in my boat and I’d get yelled at and threatened,” Maher said, adding that similar trouble also occurs for boaters around the catwalk areas under the State Road A1A Bridge.

Alan Kershaw suggested charging an extra fee, in addition to the state park user fee, for using the jetty. “That might weed out the trouble makers. Education is needed for the people on the jetty.”

The concrete-capped jetty, equipped with safety railings, offers anglers access to fishing areas otherwise inaccessible to land-based fishermen. Sebastian Inlet is recognized as one of the top sportfishing centers in Florida for multiple species and the north jetty is the focal point.

Bill Sargent has been writing about outdoor subjects for FLORIDA TODAY for 48 years. Contact him at sargentwb@gmail.com.