Great white sharks seen in Pismo; surfers blast chumming online

Multiple sightings of great white sharks off the coast from Cayucos and Morro Bay to the Pismo Beach Pier have been reported this week, and some surfers say fishermen are creating a potential hazard in popular surf spots by chumming, or dumping fish remains off the pier to attract the sharks.

On Friday morning, fisherman Pete De la Torre of Santa Maria and his 12-year-old son, Eddie, who regularly fish off the Pismo Beach Pier, said they saw a 6-foot shark they believed to be a great white.

“It was dark and was kind of scoping out the area before it swam out to deeper waters,” De la Torre said. “It was shocking to see one up close.”

Grover Beach surfer Mike Schwartz, who regularly surfs in the area, said he was surfing off the north side of the Pismo Beach Pier on Tuesday evening when he saw a giant fish — about 6 to 7 feet — that appeared to be a shark.

When he got out, a girl visiting from Oklahoma showed him photos she had taken of the shark.

“I just spotted it swimming by,” Schwartz said. “After looking at the photos, it wasn’t a thresher, which have those elongated, pointy tails. It had the characteristics of a juvenile great white shark.”

In online discussions, surfers recently have blamed fishermen for chumming to attract sharks off the Pismo Beach Pier.

Using the handle “inhabitoryresidue,” Schwartz recently wrote in an online discussion: “I have witnessed fisherman discussing and rigging their rods expressly for catching ‘the shark.’ 

Schwartz continued, “Do you put a 2-inch circle hook through the middle of a 10-inch smelt to fish for halibut off the pier?? I think not. Whether these actions could lead to a surfer being attacked is debatable, but the fact that they are trying to catch ‘the shark’ is not.”

An Instagram post by “dave.morgan_” added, “Maybe some police signage on jail time if anyone injured due to chumming. Could squeeze in something about hooking surfers as well.”

In another Instagram post, Walt Cerny, who goes by “stillfrothy,” urged the city of Pismo Beach to “please monitor that for all of our safety. Not cool!!!”

De la Torre, who fishes for perch, mackerel and smelt, said that he has witnessed some chumming taking place. But he said it was infrequent, and he hasn’t heard of anyone fishing for great whites.

“I have seen people going for the threshers,” De la Torre said. “Sometimes they use a big hook and rope and just haul the thing up.”

Schwartz said that he heard of a catch that was likely a great white.

“I wasn’t there, but I heard from a credible source — I won’t give out any names — that some fishermen off the Pismo Beach Pier recently hauled in a shark that appeared to be a juvenile great white,” Schwartz said. “They gaffed it and used a crab net to get it up on the pier.”

Under state Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations, it’s illegal to fish for great whites unless the catch was incidental; even then, fishermen are supposed to release them immediately.

“People aren’t supposed to be targeting great whites for fishing,” said Carrie Wilson, a Fish and Wildlife marine biologist.

Chumming is legal, Wilson said, but added that wardens do frequent the area to make sure illegal behavior isn’t going on.

Wilson said people who see illegal fishing behavior are asked to report it to the department’s Cal Tip line at 888-334-2258.

Despite the sightings and fears about the type of fishing taking place, some surfers say they won’t be deterred from riding waves.

“There’s so much food for sharks in the form of wildlife around here that some chumming probably won’t make a difference to attracting sharks,” said Tim Kelley, a Morro Bay resident who surfed by the Pismo Beach Pier on Friday. “I have noticed fewer surfers in the water of late, however, especially in Morro Bay, where the attack took place last year. I try to surf a little closer to other people.”