Swimmers: Watch out for fishermen Anglers use chum to attract sharks, big fish to shallows

Anglers fish off the Folly Beach pier as visitors take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean nearby Wednesday.

Chumming for sharks and other big saltwater fish is a longtime angler tradition, in the Lowcountry as elsewhere. It’s also trouble when bathers are nearby.

When any bait is in the water, the scent and blood can attract sharks hunting in the same nearshore area along the breakers. But on the beaches near Charleston, it’s commonplace to see people frolicking in the surf near piers where people are fishing, or surf-fishing anglers casting lines with swimmers nearby.

After two teens lost limbs in attacks by a shark or sharks last weekend, Oak Island’s mayor asked North Carolina wildlife officials to ban shark fishing along the town’s beach through the Fourth of July holiday, according to the Wilmington Star News.

Both attacks occurred in the afternoon near Ocean Crest Pier, a popular fishing spot and a focus of beachgoers. A year ago, the town’s Beach Ambassadors, residents and visitors complained about shark anglers chumming while swimmers were in the water, according to the State Port Pilot.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attacks, a video has gone viral on social media showing a man feeding large chunks of fish to a swarm of sharks from the pier at Surfside Beach, near Myrtle Beach, as young girls squeal.

Chumming is tossing or hanging chunks of fish to attract game fish like sharks, cobia or tarpon. It’s legal in South Carolina — although some local laws restrict it or beach shark fishing — and it is considered a standard fishing technique. “Chum bags” are common gear and fish oil products like Menhaden Milk are sold. Anglers will toss old bait into the water rather than leave it to rot.

On Tuesday, Tyler Yoon of James Island was out fishing at Folly Beach Pier and had unintentionally hooked a few small sharks. Yoon is careful about casting near bathers, he said, and will yell to shoo them away from his lines if they get too close.

If someone near him dropped a chum bag of bluefish, he’d report it, he said. But “throwing a chunk of fish out is a far cry from chumming.”

Most of the piers in South Carolina ban “targeting” sharks, or using large bait — chum or hooked — to fish exclusively for them, said wildlife biologist Bryan Frazier, S.C. Department of Natural Resources. But the problem persists.

“We do have issues with people targeting sharks, daily,” said Mark Patrick, general manager of the Folly pier, which is in the heart of the city’s tourist area. “We ask them to quit and if they don’t quit we escort them off the pier.”

Fishing near swimmers is a concern for more experienced beachgoers. Hilton Head Island bans fishing or surf casting during the day in designated swimming areas in warm weather months. The city of Surfside Beach bans shark fishing on its beaches.

In 2013, a large shark cut through a line of surfers at The Washout, a popular Folly surf mecca, and took the safety line attached to a pre-teen. Someone saw a social media posting and word went out that anglers were chumming the water near the surfers.

They weren’t. But anglers at Sullivan’s Island were chumming.

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