Surfers, fishers clash at pier


Andrew Noble simulates being hooked at the Jacksonville Beach Pier.

Fishermen say they have the right to fish however they please on Jacksonville Beach’s Pier because they pay to use it. Surfers say they have a right to surf because it is a public pier, and that’s where the best break is.

The debate continues within the surfing and fishing communities regarding who has the right of way when using the Jacksonville Beach Pier.

Sgt. Thomas Bingham of The Jacksonville Beach Police Department said fishermen and surfers have had heated disputes with one another for years, sometimes involving fist fights, line-cutting and hooking.

“The past 15 years since I’ve been here it has always been a problem,” Bingham said. “I think it is something that is always going to be around.”

Bingham said police are making sure the disputes don’t get out of control.

“We don’t want somebody to break out an uzi or a machete or something,” he said.

According to Jacksonville Beach Municipal Code section 6-49, surfing and swimming is prohibited within three hundred feet from the pier. The code states that the city manager has absolute authority to regulate, restrict or prohibit surfing for reasons of public safety or necessity.

However, the language of that code only applies to the old pier at Sixth Avenue South – not the current pier at Fourth Avenue North.

Representatives from the city council of clerks department said the code is still pending an update.

This means the only standard surfers and fisherman have to abide by is “mutual respect,” said UNF economics senior Derek Stites.

Stites said a fisherman purposely casted a heavy weight at his girlfriend last year, hitting her in the head. He attempted to confront the fisherman on the pier but instead was issued a trespassing warrant by police, he said.

“This guy throws some s— at my girlfriend, and I get a trespassing warrant?” Stites said.

Pier fisherman Rocky Warpool said he was under the impression that surfers had to stay 300 feet away from the pier, like it was at the old one.

Warpool admitted to casting by surfers before, but said only by accident.

“The thing is, everybody is going for the same thing,” Warpool said. “Surfers are going for the best wave, which, depending on which way the swell is going, that’s where the best waves are going to be. On the other hand, whichever way the swell is going is also where the fish are going to be hanging.”

A solution, Warpool said, would be to organize both fishermen and surfers and discuss the issue at a public forum.

“I would like to see [the Jacksonville Beach City Council] get the two sides together and try to get some sort of resolution. But that will never happen,” he said.

Surfer Terry DeLoach said he has been surfing at the pier for over 40 years. He said surfers and fisherman should be courteous to one another while using the pier.

Surfers don’t seem to get upset unless fishers cast near them, he said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and what we have are fishermen that disregard that common courtesy and vise versa,” he said.

DeLoach said he used to surf the beaches back when surfing was not allowed after 9 a.m.

Even when the old pier had the 300 foot ordinance in effect, there was a constant battle between surfers and fishermen, DeLoach said.

“It was a waste of enforcements time and effort to control it,” he said.

Pier manager Faye Cotner said she does not believe fishermen can do much to avoid surfers.

If surfers want to avoid getting caught in fishing lines while surfing near the pier, Cotner said, “you’ve got to be smarter than a fifth grader. Because we can’t move.”

UNF communications professor Dr. Brian Thornton, an avid surfer from Hawaii, said he agrees with an effort to put forth a public hearing so that fishers and surfers can reach a mutual understanding.

“I know that sounds unrealistic,” he said. “But I think they should.”

Thornton said surfers surf at the pier because it’s typically where the best break is. However, he said, a solution could be a matter of engineering.

Thornton said that he has read about artificial reef breaks, which could allow more, and perhaps better, breaks for surfers to choose from, and which would not be near the pier.

ASR is a global coastal science and engineering protection company. They design and construct Multi-Purpose Reefs, for coastal protection and recreation, like scuba and surfing.

“We’re all surfers,” said Daigian. “Our goal is to create coastal protection elements because it provides recreation in the form of surfing.”

Daigian said ASR doesn’t necessarily claim to create waves. But with the reef installments already in place in other parts of the world, he said, surfers are pleased with the results.

If we had more places to surf away from the pier, Thornton explained, that could eliminate crowds at the pier and make it easier on the fishermen.