Letters addressed to Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti, the board of aldermen and town manager Bob Simpson has town officials reexamining safety regulations surrounding Johnnie Mercer’s Pier regarding surfing and spearfishing.
On Sept. 14, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen decided to make a proposal banning spearfishing around the pier a regular agenda item at its Oct. 11 meeting.
The letters, penned by Johnnie Mercer’s Pier angler Wayne Holden, address the issue of surfing and spearfishing within 500 feet of the pier, and the failure of lifeguards and Wrightsville Beach police to adequately enforce the current ordinance.
Current ordinances declare it unlawful for any person to surf within 500 feet of the pier, or to swim within 100 feet of the pier, but declare an exception for those snorkeling or scuba diving.
“I see a safety issue, and I’d like to make them aware of it,” Holden said. “I have observed massive abuse of the town’s ordinances. Surfers are getting right up on the pier. It’s insensitive, and shows a lack of respect.”
Surfers like to surf around the pier because sand piles up around its sides and creates well-groomed sandbars, resulting in good waveform when swells come in from the right direction. This has become an issue as some surfers are testing the flexibility of the ordinance to catch the wave coming off of the pier.
“If the town wanted to put sand bags out in the ocean to make good waves for surfing, I’d be all for that as long as there was no negative environmental impact,” Holden said. “But the fishing pier is for fishing. To me that’s black and white. I see no grey areas there.”
Pier fishermen point to the fact that they pay to fish from the pier, and don’t want obstacles in the water. Some also suggest that surfers and spearfishermen near the pier will scare fish and keep them from biting.
“Most of the surfers know how to avoid the fishermen’s lines,” said Lyle McCutcheon-Schour, who frequently surfs the waters surrounding the pier. “And as for the idea that surfers are going to scare the fish away, that’s absurd. If the waves breaking aren’t scaring the fish away, I really doubt surfers paddling around on the surface will.”
Jarrod Covington, a Wrightsville Beach resident who spearfishes “as much as anybody” around Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, offered an underwater view on the topic.
“They may swim 20 feet or so away to get away from us, but they never swim away from the structure,” Covington said.
Scaring fish aside, Holden maintains that his main concern is safety.
“If a surfer or diver gets hooked, they’re going to blame it on the fisherman,” said Steve Cohen, who runs the tackle shop on Johnnie Mercer’s Pier. “Or if someone casts out a heavy sinker and hits someone in the head, they could kill them. No one wants that to happen.”
Cohen pointed to a situation that occurred about a month ago, in which a surfer surfing within 500 feet of the pier suffered a minor laceration to his leg from a fisherman’s line, though he admitted that it was not a common occurrence.
“People surf around piers all over the world,” McCutcheon-Schour said. “There’s an inherent danger in it, but that’s all sports. If you’re biking on the road you can get hit by a car, but we don’t ban biking on the road. People just need to watch out for each other.”
Regarding spearfishing, Covington agrees.
“There needs to be a mutual respect between fishermen and spearfishermen,” Covington said. “I never go out to the end of the pier, where the fishermen are fishing, I stay directly underneath the pier, and I avoid their lines.”
Covington also pointed out that the calm seas and water clarity required for good spearfishing conditions practically eliminates any threat from waves and currents around the structure.
Both Holden and Cohen expressed respect for the sports of surfing and spearfishing, but don’t want it around Johnnie Mercer’s Pier.
“There’s plenty of other places,” said Cohen. “Seventy-five percent of [the] earth is covered in water. Go somewhere else. We shouldn’t have to fight over it.”
There are no plans to change any ordinances regarding surfing around the pier, but spearfishermen who would like their voice heard on the topic can email members of the board of aldermen or attend the Oct. 11 meeting.