The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 48 - August 19, 2009


New rules slash Cortez fleet
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD Commercial fisherman John Yates,
who works for A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, said the
new regulations will all but eliminate small fishing
operations. In the village, layoffs are expected to
mount as only five or six of the 16 boats in the Cortez
fleet will qualify under the new longline criteria.

CORTEZ – New commercial grouper fishing regulations designed to save sea turtles have left some Cortez fishermen dead in the water, while some survive to fish another day.

Of the dozen grouper boats fishing out of Cortez, five will be able to use longlines under new rules passed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council last week, said Glen Brooks, of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association.

"It went as well as it could have. They kept the most boats in there for us they could," Brooks said, adding that there was little cause to celebrate. While three of his six boats will qualify, he anticipates idling the others and laying off about half of his 20 employees.

The new rules are intended to reduce the number of longline boats, which regulators hope will minimize interactions with sea turtles. Longliners typically drop a line with 750 to 1,200 baited hooks on the sea floor for five to 10 miles, and begin retrieving it within an hour.

For boats to qualify for a longline endorsement, the new rules require minimum average annual catches of 40,000 pounds. They also prohibit using more than 750 hooks at a time, with 1,000 maximum on board, and prohibit shallow water grouper fishing from June to August, when turtles are plentiful in the eastern Gulf.

"All they did is open the door for (only) a few people to fish," said fisherman John Yates, of Holmes Beach, who works with A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez. "It’s not going to keep the fish house open for everybody. They opened the season for the big guys and cut the little guy out."

"We lose a couple of vessels, I know," council member Roy Crabtree said. "But I think in the long run it’s the best thing to get the industry on sound ground and avoid a jeopardy call," a turtle death that would require closing the fishery indefinitely.

Double jeopardy

But it’s the future of Cortez and the handful of other fishing communities along the Gulf Coast that is in jeopardy, according to Karen Bell, of A.P. Bell Fish Co.

Of the Cortez company’s six grouper boats, only two would qualify under the new rules, she told the council, adding that the 70-year-old company has been running in the red since an emergency longline gear ban went into effect in May.

The ban was the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) response to a controversial calculation of fishery-wide unintended loggerhead sea turtle deaths based on a single report that five sea turtles were found dead on a longline. The Turtle Island Restoration Network sued NMFS to force protection of sea turtles from the longline fishery under the Endangered Species Act.

Since the ban began, Bell Fish Co. has stayed afloat by using a credit line that is almost exhausted to loan money to fishermen, who are fishing with less effective vertical line gear, Bell said. Five of its 17 employees have been cut back to 30 hours or less a week.

"All our boats are in the negative. The crews aren’t making money. They’re paying for fuel, bait and ice to go to work. We cannot sustain our business on two longline grouper boats," she said.

"I’m willing to take my chances with jeopardy," Bell said. "We’re almost gone anyway. We’re just about ready to close the doors. The boats are in jeopardy, the fishermen, the employees, my family all are in jeopardy."

Instead of reducing the fleet under new regulations, Bell suggested allowing time for an individual fishing quota (IFQ) system to go into effect next year, or restricting the use of squid bait, a favorite of turtles, or restricting gear.

Crabtree said the IFQ system alone would not solve the problem and asked for other suggestions.

"I don’t know the answer," she said. "That’s your job. My job is to run a fish house, and I can’t do it like this."

At Madeira Beach Seafood, only three boats of 35 broke even on recent fishing trips, said owner Bob Spaeth, director of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association.

Fishermen suggested allowing longlines based on whether they work in communities like Cortez that are economically dependent on fishing, instead of basing it on their average annual catch, but the council declined.

Snagged on statistics

Loggerheads are threatened, one step below endangered, and long term nesting statistics are down in Florida, one of two significant loggerhead nesting areas in the world. Short term nesting, however, is on the rise, including on Anna Maria Island, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Mortality statistics are not as clear, according to the council, which spent most of last week expressing frustration that available statistics were inadequate to make informed decisions.

"In all my years on this council I have never read so much on this issue that said so little. The data is horrendous," council member Corky Perret said. "Whatever action we take is going to hurt a large group of people based on data that even the scientists say at best are uncertain."

Commercial fishermen reminded the council of testimony last month that longline fishing has a negligible impact on loggerhead sea turtles. Statistics collected by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (a division of NOAA) from 2006-08 showed that bottom longline fishermen snared about 350 loggerheads annually, and estimated that half, or 175, may have died, amounting to about 1 percent of adult loggerhead sea turtle deaths in the region.

"Longlining is not the primary cause of decline," Marks said. Other causes cited include recreational fishing, offshore racing during nesting season, oil rig demolitions and spills, red tide, coastal development, beach renourishment, nest poachers and illegal artificial lighting disorientation.

Several fishermen testified that they had never encountered a single dead sea turtle on their longlines.

Recreational fishermen and environmental groups, often at odds with the commercial industry, also questioned statistics at the hearing.

"The science on this seems very uncertain," said Dennis O’Hern, executive director of the Fishing Rights Alliance and a private recreational angler, who expressed concern that regulations would be extended to the recreational fishery. "What I’m concerned about is you’re going to take action on uncertain information. You’re playing blindman’s bluff."

"The NMFS said more turtles were being taken than allowed and you’re being told to solve the problem," said Dr. Russell Nelson, a fisheries scientist representing the Coastal Conservation Association. "But you’ve been blindfolded and put in the back yard with a piñata and if you hit it, everything will be all right."

Fishing’s future murky

Fishermen are worried about the future under the new rules, which remind them of the 1995 state Constitutional amendment that banned mullet gill nets, but without the retraining programs and compensation for the banned gear.

In addition, the longline ban is still in effect at least through October, and can be extended another six months, potentially leaving local restaurants and stores without locally-caught grouper until next spring, and leaving fishermen out of work.

Fishermen have no choice but to continue fighting the ban, Brooks said, adding, "I hope we can hang on until October."

$2.2 million in stimulus for Island

Anna Maria Island will receive $2,237,103 in federal stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for road improvements and sidewalks beginning this fall.

The largest of the 13 projects will be new sidewalks, landscaping and lighting in Bradenton Beach along Gulf Drive from south of Cortez Road to north of Fifth Street on the west side of Gulf Drive, and from south of Second Street to north of Fifth Street on the east side of Gulf Drive. The total project cost is estimated at $830,169 and is slated to begin in November and be completed by February 2010.

Anna Maria has the next two largest projects planned – the $775,169 repair of two bridges and the $186,264 resurfacing of Pine Avenue.

The two costliest projects in Holmes Beach will be a $78,110 upgrade at the intersection of East Bay Drive and Gulf Drive just east of the Manatee Public Beach, including a golf cart crossing, and a $64,379 sidewalk on Holmes Boulevard from 54th Street to 66th Street.

Federal stimulus funds will cover all of the project costs, according to Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons-Adente.

Bidding on the projects is scheduled to begin later this year, with projects starting in October, and some projects completed as early as November.

Budget goes to hearing

HOLMES BEACH – With the exception of Commissioner David Zaccagnino, commissioners last week expressed approval of the city’s 2009-10 proposed budget.

The budget of $7.8 million is a decrease of $262, 233 from the 2008-09 budget of $8.1 million. The proposed millage rate is 1.7549, which is the rolled-back rate, and an increase from last year’s millage of 1.5989.

"The basis was to try and continue services as they currently are and not take anything away from residents," City Treasurer Rick Ashley explained. "We have honed down the individual line items where we could and looked at everything as far as office supplies, utilities, etc."

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said cost saving measures included eliminating one full time position, canceling two contracted services, purchasing one police vehicle instead of two and cutting the contingency fund $60,000.

Protesting millage rate

"We’re increasing our millage by 9.7 percent," Zaccagnino protested. "I think there’s more room in this budget to be looked at and keep the same millage rate. Raising our millage rate is a tax increase."

Bohnenberger pointed out that the revenues are down and if the city kept the same millage, the revenue would be short $225,000.

Commissioner John Monetti asked how the city’s millage compares to other cities in the county. Zaccagnino said it’s lower than all but Longboat Key.

"I’m comparing percentages, not millage," Zaccagnino stressed. "Ours is the second highest increase in the county."

"What would you get rid of?" Bohnenberger asked.

"I want to see a breakdown in salaries and expenditures," Zaccagnino responded. "To find out what we can cut is not my job; it’s your job and the treasurer’s job."

Bohnenberger said the increase for salaries is about $24,000 (a $500 increase per employee), and Ashley said the city has added only two positions since 1998.

Commissioner defend budget

"Our employees are worth every penny," Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said. "We have a lot of employees that have been here a long time. That’s what makes our city run."

Commissioner Pat Geyer agreed and said salaries should not be cut.

"People are happy that they live in Holmes Beach," Monetti noted. "To do something different, you risk degrading that quality of life they thank us for on a daily basis."

"I think you’re jumping on a bandwagon that’s going down the drain." Commissioner Pat Morton declared.

Commissioners agreed to proceed to the first public hearing with the proposed budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Bowling tourney raises money for kids

By participating in the 19th annual O’Connor Bowling Challenge you are helping raise money for much needed equipment for Island kids at the Community Center.

This year’s bowling tournament will help the Center:

  • Purchase competitive grade athletic equipment for its upcoming soccer, basketball, flag football, cheerleading and volleyball seasons for more than 600 participating children;
  • Purchase a competitive volleyball net system for the gym;
  • Purchase an audio sound system for the performing arts/dance room and family movie nights;
  • Purchase blow-up bounce house type equipment for family fun days and birthday parties.

The Center is trying to maintain its policy that no child will be turned away, but the need is great. So join your friends on Saturday, Aug. 29, at AMF Bowling Lanes, 4208 Cortez Road, Bradenton, for a fun filled bowling evening.

Pre-registration is highly recommended. Bowlers must sign up by Thursday, Aug. 27, at Duffy’s Tavern, 5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, to be guaranteed a lane with their friends.

The donation is $25 per person, which includes shoes and three games. If there are any lanes left, you can sign up at the bowling alley from 5 to 6 p.m. Bowling starts promptly at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.

This year’s after party will once again be held at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, 6696 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. Oyster bar owner John Horne has promised beer and margarita stations, a full bar and bowlers’ specials.

Raffle tickets for a big screen television donated by The Sun and hundreds of outstanding prizes from local merchants and restaurants will be available at the bowling alley. Tickets are six for $5.

In addition to the raffle, trophies will be awarded at the after party. Trophies include high and low game male and female, high series male and female and the Chuck Stearns Memorial High Game Trophy, The trophy is in honor of Holmes Beach Police Officer Charles "Chuck" Stearns, who passed away in 2005.

For information, call Billy O’Connor at 650-5488.

Corona sentenced to four years
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Robert Corona watches the prosecutor discuss his prior
record at his sentencing hearing on Aug. 10.

BRADENTON – Robert Corona was sentenced to four years in prison on Friday for stealing a car belonging to missing Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler.

Corona, 38, pled no contest to grand theft of a motor vehicle, a third-degree felony, and misdemeanor charges of resisting, obstructing or opposing an officer without violence and no valid driver license.

His defense attorney, John Pangallo, requested the minimum sentence of 36.9 months, saying that Corona was being treated harshly by the State Attorney’s Office due to the unsolved disappearance of the owner of the car, which was reported on Nov. 6, 2008, by her husband after he learned of Corona’s arrest.

Investigators identified blood discovered in the car as Musil-Buehler’s a few days later.

Assistant State Attorney Tony Casoria said he had made a plea offer of five years in jail based on Corona’s eight previous felony convictions and 23 misdemeanor convictions.

Corona told Manatee Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith that he had nothing to do with the missing woman’s disappearance.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Dep. William Waldron testified at the sentencing hearing that Corona said he took the car for a joyride after finding it parked at the Gator Lounge in Bradenton with the window rolled down and keys inside.

Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend, William Cumber, the last person to report seeing her, told investigators that the last time he saw her was when she left the home they shared at 208 B Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria, on Nov. 4 after an argument.

When questioned about her disappearance and the apparent arson on Nov. 16 of a building at Haley’s Motel, 8104 Gulf Drive, he denied any involvement.

Cumber, 39, is serving an unrelated 13.5-year sentence for violation of probation on a 2006 arson conviction for setting fire to a Bradenton house.

City moves forward on cell tower ordinance

BRADENTON BEACH – The city commission has agreed to have City Attorney Ricinda Perry tweak its telecommunications ordinance and then hire a consultant to make sure she covered all the bases.

At the city commission meeting on Thursday, Aug. 6, Perry reported on the progress she has made while looking over the ordinance already on the books. She said it is sound and only needs a few changes to keep up with the changes in the industry. She also said she knew of three consultants who would advise the city at no charge.

In June, the city agreed to set aside up to $2,000 to pay Perry to look into the telecommunications ordinance. At last Thursday’s meeting, City Commissioner Janey Robertson asked Perry how much of that budget was still available.

"To be honest with you, it was such a learning experience for me that I didn’t charge for all the time I spent," Perry answered. "At this point, I am comfortable that I could draft an ordinance."

The city’s telecommunications ordinance came to the forefront after a cell phone tower contractor approached the city about building one next to the city’s public works building on Highland Avenue. At first, the commissioners thought they would have to write their own ordinance until Perry found out that there was already one on the books.

In other news, the commissioners agreed to have Perry defend the city against a writ of certiorari by Ken Lohn asking the circuit court to set aside the city’s latest decision to allow a certificate of occupancy for a multi-family unit at 109 Fifth St. S., next door to his house. He contends that the city allowed GSR Development, which built two duplexes in that area, to have a 10-foot-wide driveway to the property instead of a 12-foot wide one, as the code requires. The argument has been going on in the courts for almost two years since the city initially issued the certificate.

Perry said the city had two choices – ignore it or respond.

"If you defend it, the Florida League of Cities (which insures the city against some lawsuits) has already said it would not cover it," Perry said. "If you don’t defend, the judge will only see what is placed before him."

Perry estimated it would cost between $3,000 and $6,000 for put up a defense.

Commissioners instructed Perry to defend the city and consult with League of Cities contract attorney Greg Hootman, who is familiar with the case, if necessary.

Robertson voted against a motion to change the city’s charter, which requires prospective candidates for city office to come to city hall to sign their petitions. She initially brought up the requirement, which she thought put an unfair burden on petitioners. She said there is still an ordinance on the books that is in direct conflict with the charter regarding elections and that she feeels there are others and that the city should clean up conflicting ordinances.

"The charter trumps the ordinances," Perry said.

Vice Mayor John Shaughnessy said he did not feel coming to city hall places a burden on petitioners.

"Their signatures are required to be certified by a notary, and we have one here at city hall," he said.

Finally, Public Works Director Tom Woodard said he received word from Florida Department of Transportation engineer Chris Piazza that work on sidewalks along the east side of Gulf Drive from Cortez Road south would begin this week. This is part of the $800,000-plus-stimulus project in the city.

Library mural honors book club member
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND Pam Fortenberry shows the mural
featuring sea creatures that she painted on the wall leading
to the children’s room at the Island Branch Library.

HOLMES BEACH – Dolphins and manatees frolic, turtles and fishes swim lazily and seahorses and rays hover across the wall in the Island Branch Library’s new mural.

Painted by Island artist Pam Fortenberry, the mural honors Carol Kerr, a Friends Book Club member who passed away in January. It is located on the wall leading to the children’s room and ties in with a mural, also painted by Fortenberry, above the bookcases in the children’s room.

"Carol was a member of the Friends Book Club, so I asked for donations in her name," her husband, Ed, explained. "Carol loved to read and used the library a lot.

"The library board said they’d been thinking about a mural, so that’s what the committee decided to do with the donations. It was well worth the money."

"Ed wanted something lasting," said Jolie Bell, past president of the Friends of the Island Branch Library. "The library board established a committee that made the decisions."

Fortenberry said she designed the mural, which she sketched free hand and then painted over a period of two weeks.

"I looked at books, cards, T-shirts to come up with the critters," she explained. "The painting is done around them. The hard part was to figure out where to put them.

"While I was painting it, people would come by every day to check its progress. A man in a wheelchair came and asked. ‘Where’s Waldo?" So I put him in and the kids really get kick out of it."

The mural includes the following quote by Abraham Lincoln: Live a good life and in the end, it’s not the years in a life, it’s the life in the years.

"About three weeks before she died, Carol brought home a sign with the quote on it," Kerr said. "I thought it was apropos."

Bell said a formal dedication of the mural is planned for the fall.

School to deal with swine flu possibility

HOLMES BEACH – Like all the other schools around the country, Anna Maria Elementary School is preparing for the possibility of a swine flu outbreak during the school year.

While there have been sporadic reports of swine flu in Manatee County with a small percentage of those resulting in death, health officials have said they expect more cases during the winter when the flu season officially starts.

AME Principal Tom Levengood said they have a policy at the school on the Island.

"While we cannot require students get swine flu vaccinations, they are encouraged to get them," he said. "The problem is there is a national protocol that does not give students priority. Pregnant women, the elderly, health care providers all have priority."

Levengood said that they expect parents to play a part in keeping the disease out of the school.

"Parents are advised that if their children have flu symptoms, including fever, they should be kept out of school," he said.

Levengood said that custodian Shirley Beard has her own policy. She wants teachers who have students who are sick to mark their desks, the desks around them and common desks where they work with other students and her crew plan to sanitize them after class lets out. Levengood said that they would be encouraging students to wash their hands a lot.

"They should clean them before they beat, after they use the restroom and after they come in from the playground," he said. "We will be showing them the proper way to wash their hands."

He said that they expect to go through a lot more hand sanitizer this year.

"I’m telling teachers to put hand sanitizer on their wish lists this year," he said. "We’re encouraging them to put sanitizers by the classroom door so everyone can use them when they come in."

He said that they would accept any donations for hand sanitizers since they don’t have a big budget for them.

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