It was Sunday morning and the bridge at the east end of Jensen Beach Causeway — over by the island — was trashed.
Dead bait fish, discarded fishing line and netting coagulated with empty beer cans, iced tea containers and crushed water bottles. Cigarette packs, a surgical mask and blood stains — or maybe it was some other bodily fluid — topped off the typical Sunday miasma.
A bunch of guys were fishing from the bridge, but I didn’t see any of them tossing refuse over their shoulder. Maybe it had been the Saturday crowd.
Then again, those Sunday morning anglers didn’t seem too bothered by the mess. Hey, that’s just the way it is on the bridge!
But “the way it is” needs to change.
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As it happens, Sunday morning this fine publication ran a letter to the editor by Bill Cromer of Jensen Beach, who wrote the garbage on the bridge is getting worse — and implored Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith to do something about it.
The commission, he wrote, should ban cast netting from the bridge and erect signs stipulating huge fines for people who litter.
“I have lived in the Jensen Beach area for almost 35 years,” Cromer told me when I reached out to him. He walks the bridge for exercise regularly, as do dozens, even hundreds, of local residents.
And he said it’s not right “for people like me who love walking the bridge for exercise to have to walk around all the dead fish left on the sidewalk, like it’s OK for (people who fish from the bridge) to do this.”
Problem is, Smith and other Martin County commissioners have no jurisdiction over the bridge; it’s owned and maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation, FDOT.
As of this writing, FDOT hasn’t responded to my questions: How often do FDOT crews clean up the walkways? Has there ever been any talk off increasing the frequency of clean-ups, maybe putting trash cans on the bridge?
And lastly — could FDOT ban fishing from the bridge if the problem persists and they get more complaints?
Last year my colleague Ed Killer wrote of how some mysterious “No fishing from bridge” signs went up at the opposite/western end of the bridge. No one ever claimed responsibility for the signs, which were removed just days after Ed’s first article appeared on Dec. 12. FDOT said the signs weren’t theirs. Some suspected a nearby private property owner, Ben Sharfi, had put them up. He also pleaded innocence.
Sharfi did note, however, that the western bridge was also frequently trashed, and maybe the state — or someone — ought to erect “no littering” signs.
I’m not thinking the litterbug crowd would pay them a whole lot of attention.
So what’s the solution, then?
I mean, I get how there might be a little tension between fishermen and those who walk the bridge. Bottom line, though: It’s a public space and we need to share it.
What bugged me was some of the online reaction to Cromer’s letter. There’s obviously some tension between the anglers and the walkers, and some anglers said guys like Cromer ought to just suck it up and deal with it.
Walkers don’t like the trash? Then they should bring garbage bags and pick it up themselves.
That is the exact WRONG reaction.
Indeed, that’s the reaction that’ll get fishing banned from the bridge.
And look, I walk the bridge, I wind my way through the dozens who show up on the walkway when the fish are biting. As I said, it’s a public space and we need to share it; I’m happy to do so.
But no one should expect people to just step over the dead fish, discarded fishing line and empty beer cans and pretend it’s all just fine.
It’s not fine. It needs to be addressed. Particularly with the face masks and gloves that have joined the trash heap in recent months, it’s a public health hazard.
And I’m sure most people who fish know this, even agree with it. But you know how it is — the irresponsible few always screw things up for the responsible many.
So what would be great is to see those whose initial reaction was “if the trash bothers you pick it up yourself” instead turn to the litterers and say: “You know, I like fishing from this spot, I want to continue fishing from this spot, but if I can’t it’s going to be your fault.
“So knock it off.”
It’s got to work better than a sign, right?
Tuesday morning I went back to the bridge for another look, and it was actually in better shape; a hard rain had fallen Sunday night, washing much of the detritus away. Probably right into the lagoon.
Stacey Thomas of Port St. Lucie, known to friends as “Big Willie,” was unloading gear from his truck.
“I heard the fish were biting here,” he said. It was his first time at the bridge in four years.
But he sees the same trash at his other fishing spots, and it annoys him.
“They’re just lazy,” he said of the litterers. “I tell them, ‘Just take your stuff with you, would you do this at home?’ ”
Maybe they do. But they’re free to make a mess of their own homes.
They can’t keep doing the same to ours.
Gil Smart is a TCPalm columnist and a member of the Editorial Board. His columns reflect his opinion; if you like what you read please consider subscribing to TCPalm. Gil can be reached at email@example.com, by phone at (772) 223-4741 or via Twitter at @TCPalmGilSmart.