The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 42 - July 8, 2009


Fourth a blast for tourism
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO/CHRIS GRUMLEY The BeachHouse restaurant
offered a dazzling fireworks display Friday night,
while the Sandbar and MarVista had shows on Saturday.

View more July 4th photos

Motel rooms, restaurants, businesses and roads were full of fireworks and parade fans over the Fourth of July weekend.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce was hopping on Thursday before the three-day weekend, fielding requests for accommodations from more than 50 people by noon, according to administrative assistant Deb Wing.

"People were trying to find last minute places to stay," she said, adding that all the Chamber member accommodations were booked except for a few cancellations.

Heavy rains last week also drove people to the Chamber to request indoor activities; they were referred to local shops and they were referred to local shops and attractions, she said. Skies cleared by Friday, when the first fireworks display was launched.

The three restaurants that offered fireworks and special dinner packages sold out early, said Steve Ananicz, chief operating officer for the Chiles Group of restaurants.

The BeachHouse and Sandbar on Anna Maria Island were sold out early in the week and Mar Vista on Longboat Key, which held its first fireworks display this year, was nearly full by Thursday, he said.

Business at all three restaurants has been up every month this year over last year, he said, attributing the trend to the "staycation," where Florida residents vacation near home.

Anywhere near the water, "It feels like you’ve gone 1,000 miles away in 20 minutes," Ananicz said.

Anna Maria Island summers typically draw visitors from within driving distance, and this year, the slow economy may have prompted even more Floridians than usual to drive to the beach rather than fly to more expensive destinations.

People are not as cautious as they were this time last year, said Barbara Rodocker, a Manatee County Tourist Development Council member and manager at Bridgewalk and Silver Surf in Bradenton Beach, where bookings also were brisk.

"It should be fun and profitable for everybody," she said.

Grouper prices could climb due to regs
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Some of the A.P. Bell Fish Co. grouper
fleet in Cortez is idle now that a new prohibition on
longline gear is in effect and the quota for several other
species of fish has been met for the year.

CORTEZ – There won’t be much local grouper on local menus for the next few months, and menu prices may rise due to several regulations curtailing the catch for commercial fishermen.

Longline fishing gear was banned on June 27 in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico fishery in an effort to reduce sea turtle bycatch. The gear has been prohibited in shallow water since May 18. The ban will last until Oct. 28, when it could be extended for another six months.

The deepwater gear ban coincided with the date when fishery managers closed the deepwater grouper fishery in the Gulf based on their estimate that fishermen had met the 1,020,000-pound commercial quota for 2009.

The closure prohibits taking misty, snowy, yellowedge and Warsaw groupers and speckled hind. The fishery reopens under the quota regulations on Jan. 1, 2010, unless the gear ban is extended.

The National Marine Fisheries Service implemented the gear ban in response to controversial studies that the gear causes more unintended loggerhead sea turtle deaths than allowed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Cortez fishermen have testified at hearings that the ban will finish off what’s left of their livelihoods since the 1995 net ban became effective.

"We’ve got some boats out trying different gear but they haven’t had much luck," said Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, adding that red grouper fishing is still allowed. "They’re coming back negative, and I don’t know how long we can afford to keep sending them out."

Red grouper will be targeted by another new rule effective in August. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will reduce the commercial minimum size limit for Gulf red grouper and for all importation and sale of red grouper from 20 inches to 18 inches total length.

The gear ban alone will reduce the grouper on the market by half, estimated Robert Spaeth, director of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association, whose group lobbied against the ban.

When local supplies dry up, local restaurants usually can get the same type of grouper from Mexico, but it may be more expensive, said Will Manson, the chef at the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach.

"We were built on selling grouper and we intend to seek out sources that offer us the freshest available product," he said, adding that buying Mexican-caught grouper is common during the annual one-month closure of the grouper fishery in February and March.

"They’ve increased their quality over the last few years," he said. "They fly it to us from Mexico almost the same day they catch it."

If the gear ban is extended eliminating the local supply it will likely drive up the price of imported grouper, he said.

A week into the regulations, no price increases have surfaced, but Manson said, "A year from now, maybe grouper is going to be a high end item.”

Mexico releases captain

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
John Peerson

ANNA MARIA – John Peerson, captain of the yacht Reel Screamer based at Galati Marine, was recently released from a Mexican jail after four months of fighting charges that he carried illegal weapons onboard.

Peerson, 48, was detained in January at Isla Mujeres, an island off the Yucatan peninsula, while en route from Costa Rica to Miami.

After a search for drugs, Mexican authorities discovered three guns and ammunition and three guns and ammunition and seized the boat, charging Peerson with introducing undeclared guns into the country, which carries a penalty of five to 30 years in jail.

After four months of negotiating the Mexican legal process, Peerson was released on May 30 and flew home to DeFuniak Springs, in Florida’s panhandle, where he is reportedly in good health.

Reel Screamer owner Wayne Rickert, of Bradenton, recovered his boat, including the guns, last week, said his son, Scott Rickert.

"We’re really relieved," he said, adding that details of Peerson’s ordeal and release are not being publicized due to fear of repercussions.

In Mexico, "You’re guilty until proven innocent," said Rickert, who had requested that friends send character reference letters to Mexico on Peerson’s behalf in an effort to gain his release.

Fatality mars holiday
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE A Deltona man drowned after strong currents
pulled him under this barge, Saturday, at Coquina Bayside. He was
trying to dislodge his water scooter from the barge, athorities said.

BRADENTON BEACH - Jose H. Medina, 30, of Deltona drowned on Saturday afternoon when the strong current at Longboat Pass pulled him under a docked barge, according to authorities.

Medina and several others were trying to dislodge his disabled personal watercraft from the barge docked near Coquina Bayside Park when the group noticed he was missing, according to Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"It appears that the strong current pulled him under the barge," he said.

According to bystanders, Medina, who was wearing a life jacket, and the man riding with him were pulling the craft towards shore when the current dragged it toward the barge, where it became jammed, Morse said.

A bystander flagged down a deputy at 2:10 p.m. according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and FWC Officer Terry Noll arrived at the scene by boat two minutes later.

A woman on a personal watercraft tried to assist as Medina’s craft approached the tugboat docked next to the barge, Noll said, adding that the barge has a flat bottom, and no air space underneath. The barge is being used in an artificial reef renourishment project at the southeastern tip of Anna Maria Island, a popular launching site for water scooters.

Manatee County lifeguard Lt. Collin Schmidt responded with his team, Karl Payne, Alex Gardiner and Mike Doherty.

While Gardiner donned scuba gear, Payne grabbed a mask and snorkel and began searching, Chief Jay Moyles said, adding that an outgoing tide was "ripping" through Longboat Pass.

Gardiner found Medina under the barge at 2:47 p.m. Despite the rapid response of the rescuers, efforts to resuscitate him failed.

"I am so proud of my guys," Moyles said. "These guys stepped up. This is what we do."

The county’s lifeguard team has lost four positions in recent budget cuts, he said, and two more empty positions remain unfilled.

Drought not over despite rain
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD Emergency crews responded when
lightning struck a power pole near St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.

Don’t think that because we had more than four inches of rain on the Island last week that the four-year drought is over.

"We had good rain in May, but June was below average," explained Robyn Felix, spokesperson for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swfwmd). "We have a 22-inch deficit for the past three years.

"In order to get out of the drought, we’d have to have above average rainfall for an extended period of time. People should continue to conserve water."

Felix said the district is encouraging residents who irrigate their lawns to "Watch the Weather, Wait to Water" during the months of July, August and September. She said an average of 3/4 of an inch of water every three to five days is enough to replenish the grass during the summer.

The governing board of Swfwmd has extended Phase III watering restrictions in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties until July 31. They are as follows:

Once-a-week lawn watering:
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 0 or 1: Monday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 2 or 3: Tuesday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 4 or 5: Wednesday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 6 or 7: Thursday;
• Addresses with house numbers ending in 8 or 9: Friday.
Watering may be done before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

Commissioners back trolley plan

BRADENTON BEACH – City commissioners showed their support for the concept of the free, or fare-less trolley last Thursday by voting to contribute up to $8,000 to the system, the first step in a two-year plan to keep the fare boxes out of the popular vehicles.

"It’s a great benefit to have the trolley system in our area," Mayor Michael Pierce said. "It might not take $8,000, it might be less."

Under the plan put forth by local businessman and county tourism board member David Teitelbaum, each of the three Island cities would donate $8,000 for a total of $24,000 to help make up an expected $100,000 per year deficit in the Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) budget. In addition, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) would contribute $26,000 for the coming year and MCAT would continue to pay $50,000 for the same period.

During the following year, the TDC would up its portion to $40,000 and the cities would pay $10,000 each, but they might get reimbursed for some of that if a series of fund-raisers work. Those fund-raisers include putting collection boxes on the trolleys for voluntary donations, selling naming rights for each trolley to businesses, selling ad space on the outside of each trolley, recognizing donors who would give money to the cause and a huge annual festival, modeled after the Cortez Fishing Festival, to raise money.

"The trolley is essential to the Island; it is essential to our economy." Commissioner John Shaughnessy said before the vote last Thursday.

Bradenton Beach normally sets aside $10,000 per year for donating to non-profits but this coming fiscal year, there will only be $2,000 available, as the trolley donation will come from that account.

Market ends season with a boom
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTOS/TOM VAUGHT Above, Danielle Hollobaugh, lead
singer for HWY 41, performs at the Bridge Street Market.

BRADENTON BEACH – The last Bridge Street Market looked more like a festival on Friday, July 3, when HWY 41 took the stage in the corner of the field and Danielle Hollobaugh lit up the audience of shoppers and vendors with her smooth, yet energetic, voice.

Hollobaugh, who will be in Orlando this week to tryout for a spot on American Idol, attracts a bevy of fans wherever she sings with the local group, led by drummer Dave Russell, owner of Rotten Ralph’s.

Also singing a couple of songs with the band was Jay Crawford, well-known Anna Maria Island entertainer. After he finished his last song, HWY 41 member Jay Glaser invited everyone to see Jay later at Rotten Ralph’s in Anna Maria.

"Don’t bring the kids," Crawford advised, due to the adult nature of some of his songs after the dinner hour.

One of the reasons the Bridge Street Market closes in the summer is because the vendors either close up shop or go north where it’s cooler.

People trickled in during the early evening hours, either locals or vacationers staying nearby. Later, the early fireworks viewers and the vacationers back from the beach filled the fenced lot on historic Bridge Street, looking for souvenirs, snacks or searching for the source of that great music.

Bridge Street reopened at 9 a.m. on Saturday with more shoppers looking for fresh fruits and vegetables, lunch or gift items from the various arts and crafts tents. It will be back in October, as the daytime high temperatures start to drop and the seasonal residents arrive. Bridge Street is a cooperative effort of the Bridge Street Merchants Association.

Few fireworks taken over holiday

The three law enforcement agencies on the Island were busy with traffic, illegal parking and heated tempers as traffic came to a standstill during the Chiles Group restaurant shows over the weekend.

On Friday, Bradenton Beach Police reported some fights over merging traffic on Cortez Road on the way to the Island before the BeachHouse fireworks show. There were few fireworks on the beach other than at the show that evening.

On Saturday, the fireworks increased, but Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dave Turner reported deputies collected a few fireworks during the evening. He said they took 15 Roman candles. Three mortars, five M-80s and a starter pistol. He said they had to ticket people who parked on the sides of the roads and blocked traffic before and during the Sandbar restaurant fireworks show. He said there were no arrests but they ticketed one person for alcohol on the beach.

Holmes Beach Police reported no significant incidents and no fireworks taken.

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