After videos showing one shark being dragged behind a boat at high speeds and another with a shark being shot as it’s dangled above the water, one Sarasota legislator is ready to change the laws if those responsible aren’t brought to justice.
A July 30 Facebook post by state Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, said: “If current law ... does not find this to be a prosecutable crime, I will present a bill this session that brings more clarity.”
The announcement on her Facebook page came just days before a joint statement from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Manatee County State Attorney’s Office.
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The statement, released Friday, noted investigators are “diligently working toward a swift and lawful resolution” to the case, which includes several videos and images.
The investigation is said to be “moving forward,” and a news release noted the agencies’ appreciation for the “public’s understanding and patience” as they continue their work.
The videos have sparked outrage online, in the fishing community and from Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott said the videos are “disturbing” and show a “hateful act.” He has asked state wildlife officials to review fishing regulations, according to the News Service of Florida.
“The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening, and I am sure that you share my outrage over these individuals’ heinous actions,” Scott wrote to Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski on July 28, according to the News Service of Florida. The commission, Yablonski responded, will move toward strengthening regulations where they are needed.
“It’s really a testament to how lax the FWC has been over the course of decades that we in Florida are facing these horrible problems,” Miller told Sunshine State News.
In the video showing a shark being shot, the shooter is wearing the same red “Make America Great Again” Trump campaign hat and long-sleeve gray shirt that “Siesta Key” reality show cast member Alex Kompothecras is wearing in photos posted on MTV’s Facebook page for Kompothecras. The shooter also poses with what appears to be a dead hammerhead shark.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission rules, people cannot shoot sharks in Florida waters but can catch them with hook and line. However, sharks can be shot in federal waters farther from shore. It was not clear exactly where the incident in the video took place.
Local news and online commenters have identified the four West Coast anglers in the shark-dragging video as Michael Wenzel and Robert Lee “Bo” Benac, whose mother is chairwoman of the Manatee County Commission. Neither Wenzel’s father, the Manatee County planning section manager, nor Commissioner Benac have responded to requests for comment.