Long Beach police and lifeguards are discouraging onshore fishermen from “chumming” the water with bait, which could attract larger fish and sharks closer to beaches.
Officials have received nearly 20 reports of shark sightings off South Shore beaches between Atlantic Beach and Point Lookout during the past few weeks. Experts said shark sightings have doubled this year because of warmer water and larger fish in the area, which can attract sharks.
There have been no shark attacks reported, and police say there have only been about a dozen shark attacks off Long Island's South Shore in more than 180 years.
Long Beach city officials said they believe fishermen going out early in the morning or late at night are putting bait in the water off the beach or on the jetties to lure fish to the region.
No one is allowed to stand on the jetties that jut out into the ocean, and anyone found on the beach after it closes at 8 p.m. can be fined up to $500.
The city is also concerned about swimmers who have been stuck with hooks cast by fisherman. The city does not restrict fishing from the beach, but swimming and fishing areas are separated by flags near jetties.
“Due to the recent spate of the increase or perceived increase of shark sightings as of late, we have the inclination and secondhand confirmation that fishers are coming out late at night to do chums off jetties or early in the morning to attract fish and those fish and that chum may be attracting sharks as well,” Long Beach city spokesman John McNally said. “Those fines are subject to anyone on the beach late at night.”
Lifeguards plan to warn fisherman not to use chum as bait before the city considers restricting fishing from the shore.
“If they are caught doing that, they will be paying the consequences,” McNally said.
A Long Beach fisherman last week caught a small sand shark during swimming hours off the beach and later released it back in the water.
While sand sharks and small tiger sharks are common off the South Shore, officials in Hempstead and Nassau County have confirmed about six larger bull sharks — which can span 7 to 10 feet — off the coast. Bull sharks are extremely rare off Long Island, but experts said the larger fish and near tropical-like water off the coast are bringing the more aggressive sharks closer to the beach, prompting sporadic swimming closures.
Long Beach, Hempstead and Nassau County have been patrolling the coastline on Jet Skis, joined by Nassau County police boat and helicopter patrols.
Officials said the recent tropical storm activity may have driven some sharks deeper off shore, but several sharks were still spotted last week.